While Australians are often regarded as health-conscious, the sad truth is that most Aussies don’t eat enough of the right stuff. And that’s especially true of vegetables.
Few of us follow the government’s ‘Go for 2+5’ guidelines, with around two-thirds of adults skimping on vegies. Indeed, most of the people in this wide brown land with its global reputation for producing ‘clean, green’ food consume far less than the recommended amount of fresh farm-grown produce. So what’s the solution?
“We need a fresh approach to improving Australia’s vegetable consumption and overall diet quality of their diets,” asserts CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Professor Manny Noakes.
“Our research found two out of three Australian adults are not eating enough vegetables, especially as part of their evening meal. It’s time to find more engaging, effective [ways] to help break these entrenched diet habits.”
CSIRO’s innovative solution was to develop a simple ‘game-like’ app that encourages people to eat more vegies, more often.
VegEze: a personal trainer for vegie consumption
The CSIRO scientists’ goal in creating the VegEze app, launched in mid-November 2017, was to motivate Australians to add extra vegetables to their daily diets and develop healthier long-term eating habits, via a three-week ‘Do 3 at Dinner’ challenge.
The app challenges users to eat three different vegetables at dinner every evening for 21 days. It helps track people’s daily veg intake and can tally up vegetable serves, issue daily reminders and reward users for staying motivated and on track.
“Committing to eating more vegetables every day is one of the most important ways we can improve our health today,” Professor Noakes reminds.
“Boosting your intake can be as easy as having three types of vegetables taking up half of your dinner plate.”
“After just a few weeks using the app every day, users should feel more confident in adding more vegetables to their menu and notice some positive changes to their health and wellbeing,” says Professor Noakes.
“The beneficial nutrients and fibre from vegetables can help improve digestion and fill you up – which can help reduce eating too much unhealthy junk food.”
Crashing barriers to eating more veg
Since May 2015, CSIRO has been studying the dietary patterns of more than 191,000 adults as part of its Healthy Diet Score research. Among this large representative sample, eating three different types of vegetable as part of the daily evening meal was found to be a key marker of better dietary habits.
CSIRO cites a recent survey of 1,068 adult Australians that found a substantial number of us are discouraged from eating more vegetables daily (or simply failing to do so) by factors unrelated to liking or disliking vegies, principally:
- limited awareness about vegies’ key role in ongoing health;
- lack of time; and
- low confidence about healthy dietary choices.
The VegEze app has several special features designed to help people surmount these barriers. They include:
- educational resources (such as a visual guide to serve sizes for various vegetables);
- easy recipes that include a variety of different vegetables;
- nutritional information about vegetables; and
- motivational rewards for eating 3+ different vegetables daily.
Information from VegEze users will feed back into CSIRO's study of Australians' vegetable consumption and used to analyse the app's effectiveness as a tool to improve Australia’s “poor vegetable scorecard”.
A win-win for farmers and consumers
CSIRO scientists developed VegEze in partnership with Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation).
The data on vegetable consumption collected using the new app will help Australian farmers cater better to consumer demand, says Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd.
"Consumer preferences are changing all the time – now, it's pre-packed convenience foods, as well as vegies such as kale and sweet potato; in the not-too-distant future, it could be something else consumers are enjoying,” Lloyd notes.
"Research such as that generated from this VegEze initiative helps growers stay ahead of trends, while also encouraging Australians to eat well using a wide selection of vegetable options."
Take the ‘Do 3 at Dinner’ challenge
To take the 21-day Do 3 at Dinner challenge and contribute to the research study, download the free VegEze app from Apple’s App Store.