We Need to Talk about Vegetables
There are many different diet plans around at the moment. Whether it’s Paleo, Keto, Low Carb, Mediterranean or vegan, everyone’s following some regime or other. It can be quite confusing given they all claim to be the diet for you. The one thing that advocates of these diets can all agree on is that vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. They may disagree about which vegetables, but at least they agree that eating veg every day is a desirable behaviour for all of us. There are thousands of research papers showing that eating a good amount of fruit and veg is associated with a lower risk of many chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as better mental health (3).
For years now, in the UK, the government have urged us to eat 5 fruit and vegetables a day. However, evidence suggests that the optimum amount is likely to be around 10 servings a day. A meta-analysis of 95 studies found that:
- Eating 800g a day of fruit and vegetables combined reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. This equates to 10 servings where a serving is roughly 80 grams.
- Eating 600g a day of fruit and vegetables reduced the risk of cancer.
- Inverse associations were observed between intake of apples, pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, salads and cruciferous vegetables and cardiovascular disease and mortality.
- Green-yellow vegetables and cruciferous vegetables were associated with reduced total cancer risk.
Fruit and Vegetables and Mental Health
Unsurprisingly, it’s not just physical health that benefits from a diet high in fruit and vegetables:
- A review of nearly 6000 studies looking at associations between fruit and veg intake and mental health in adults found that a high total intake of fruit and vegetables may promote higher levels of optimism and self-efficacy, as well as reducing psychological distress and protecting against depressive symptoms (2).
- A review of 17 studies into the effects of fruit and veg intake on aspects of mental health in adolescents, including self esteem, happiness, anxiety, stress and depression, found a positive association between intake of fruit and vegetables and mental health (3).
What’s a Serving?
A serving is roughly:
- 1 cup raw leafy greens.
- ½ cup other vegetables, raw or cooked eg: tomatoes, squash, carrots, peppers, cabbage etc.
- 1 medium fruit such as an apple, banana, orange, or pear.
- ½ cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit.
How to Fit in 10 a Day
- Include berries or half a grapefruit at breakfast.
- Have a smoothie mid-morning – it’s easy to cram in 3-4 servings of fruit and veg into a smoothie. Good smoothie ingredients include avocados, peaches, soft pears, apricots, berries and bananas.
- Have a vegetable soup and salad for lunch.
- Add lots of veg to your evening meal. Vegetables go with everything so use them as pizza toppings, add them to stews and stir fries, or have them steamed or roasted on the side.
Whilst most people are happy to eat fruit due to its sweetness many people have developed a dislike for vegetables and see eating them as a chore. If you want some reminders about how delicious and exciting vegetables can be see blog posts How to Fall in Love with Vegetables and Vegetable Recipes for lots of yummy ideas that will have you reaching for the chopping board in no time.
1. Int J Epidem. Vol.46; 3 June 2017,1029–1056, Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Aune D et al.
2. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 1;12(1):115. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review. Glabska D et al.
3. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig . 2020;71(1):15-25. Fruit and Vegetables Intake in Adolescents and Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Glabska D et al.