When it comes to fruit and veg, more is better

As Aussies, we have access to a greater variety of clean, high-quality fresh produce than just about any people in the world. So you’d think we’d have been the first to heed the Australian Government’s ‘Go for 2+5’ message regarding fruit and veg.

The slogan refers to experts’ recommended two (150g) serves of fruit and five (75g) serves of vegetables a day – more if you’re a teenager or pregnant. The government based its recommendations on a growing body of scientific research vetted by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that links higher daily consumption of fruit and veg with reduced risk of several major illnesses, including cancers of the oesophagus, stomach and colon; diabetes; and cardiovascular disease. According to the findings of a recent, large-scale British health survey, ‘eating your greens’ could even help protect against mental illness.

Sounds simple enough: just eat more fresh produce and we can live longer, healthier lives.

I was shocked, therefore, at recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data regarding our consumption of fresh produce.

The ABS data indicates that while nearly half of adult Australians say they eat two or more serves of fruit a day and 8.8 percent meet the five-veg-a-day guideline, only 5.5 percent of us eat two the recommended serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily. Results varied by only a few percentage points across sexes, with men slightly less likely to than women (4.5, as compared to 6.5 percent) to eat the recommended daily 2+5.

Equally worrying is the fact that younger people were even less likely than old folk to ‘eat their greens’. Indeed, the group most likely to follow the ‘Go for 2+5’ guidelines to the letter was those aged 85 years or older (at a nothing-to-brag-about 8.8 percent). A miniscule 3.4 percent of those aged between 25 and 34 ate the recommended 5+2 on a daily basis.

It’s a similarly sad story in the UK, where the government’s public health message recommends ‘5 a day’ (in total, without specifying how many serves of fruit and how many of vegetables); and in the US, where a national public health campaign simply reminds citizens: ‘Fruit and Veggies – More Matters’. In both nations, as in Australia, high levels of ‘lifestyle-related’ illness continue while the fruit  and vege consumption of most citizens isn’t just a little under par: it’s far lower than experts recommend.

Why this widescale avoidance of fruit and veg in the face of mounting evidence that eating a variety of fresh fruit and, more importantly, vegetables daily is crucial to short- and long-term health, as detailed in the Australian Government’s dietary guidelines and at the Victorian Government health portal.

It’s not as though sound info isn’t out there, accessible to most people. And with governments, medicos and alternative health pundits – even fast-food chains – pushing fruit and veg, you’d think we’d start taking notice.

Unfortunately, it seems that in diet, as in love, our guts (and our tastebuds) rule our heads.  And when fat- and flavour-saturated options are cheap and ubiquitous, and people are increasingly time-poor, it’s not hard to see why so many of us jettison home-cooked meals and opt for fuss-free ‘fast’ food.

As a child, I was lucky to have family who grew their own fruit and veg. In season, the bulk of our meals came straight from the plant, with vegetables typically picked less than an hour before we ate them. These days few of us are fortunate enough to get home-cooked meals, let alone farm or garden-fresh produce. But perhaps the UCL study’s findings will encourage more of us to follow our grandparents’ dietary examples and the government’s ‘2+5’ message .

I say bring back home-cooked meals made from fresh produce - preferably straight from paddock or backyard plot to plate – rather than kidding ourselves that the occasional apple and the ‘fries’, tomato sauce and mayo-laden coleslaw that accompany fast-food ‘meals’ count as a decent daily intake of fruit and veg.

Tens of thousands of farmers, our bodies and our kids will thank us for it.

Tips to get 2&5 in your day

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