Our expert: Sue Baic (BSc 1984), dietician and lecturer in nutrition and public health
Studies show that eating fruit and vegetables can protect against major chronic illnesses common in today’s society: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and asthma, as well as many age-related conditions. The World Health Organization recently stated that eating more fruit and vegetables was the second most important thing we could do to reduce the risk of cancer. Fruit and vegetables are important because they contain a range of plant chemicals – fibre, vitamins and antioxidants – which help protect our cell membranes and DNA against damage from free radicals in the environment.
Dietary guidelines say that we should eat a minimum of five portions a day. However, recent surveys show that as few as 14 per cent of adults in the UK manage this.
A wide range of fruit and vegetables can count towards this daily total, including fresh, dried, canned and juiced. Frozen fruit and vegetables count too, and may even be higher in antioxidants than fresh ones that have been on the shelf for a while. A glass of fruit juice, a handful of dried fruit or nuts and a portion of cooked pulses count, but only once each. Try to ‘eat a rainbow’ by selecting items of different colours to get a good balance of antioxidants.
Children who eat fruit and vegetables are more likely to eat them as adults. As a rough guide, a portion for children is the amount that will fit into the palm of their hand. Often raw fruit and vegetables that children can eat with their fingers go down well. Try incorporating fruit and vegetables into pasta sauces, pizza toppings, soups and fruit smoothies. For a great range of practical ideas, see the Top Tips for Top Mums website.
Sue Baic is a registered dietitian and lecturer in nutrition and public health at the University of Bristol. She is co-author of Nutrition for Dummies, GL Diet for Dummies and Living Gluten Free for Dummies.