Eating at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day has been shown to have significant benefits to our health. The 5-a-day campaign is based on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the chances of heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer (NHS, 2020).
Including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet will help provide you with a wide range of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds such as phytonutrients. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned or juiced fruits and vegetables all count.
Below are suggestions of some low-cost and perhaps surprising foods that can count towards your 5-a-day.
Beans, Pulses and Lentils
Beans, pulses and lentils count towards your 5-a-day. One portion is about 3 heaped tablespoons (80g). It’s worth noting that they only count as one serving no matter how much you eat. This is because, although they are generally a great source of fibre and protein, they do contain fewer nutrients than other fruits and vegetables. Some examples and ways to use different beans, pulses and lentils are provided below.
- Canned beans whether its kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans or butter beans, these can be used in a variety of ways such as in soups, stews and salads.
- Baked beans are made from haricot beans in a tomato sauce, so one serving of around 3 heaped tablespoons counts as one of your 5-a-day! Look out for low sugar baked beans if possible. Beans on toast with fried mushrooms and a handful of fresh tomatoes is a simple meal that provides 3 of your 5-a-day!
- Lentils are often bought dried, although you can also buy them ready to eat in a can or pouch. Red or yellow split lentils are great in soups and for thickening sauces or stews. They are often used in the Indian dish called dhal. Green and brown lentils are slightly firmer when cooked, so are great in salads and casseroles.
- Chickpeas are great for adding to, or for replacing some of the meat in meals, such as a chicken curry. They also go well in some soups, such as butternut squash and chickpea.
Sweet potatoes, swede, and butternut squash
Regular potatoes don’t count towards your 5-a-day as they are a starchy food and are generally eaten as part of a meal like other starchy foods such as bread, pasta or rice.
However, sweet potatoes, parsnips and butternut squash do count. These all make a great mash. You could also swap a white jacket potato for a sweet jacket potato, or make some sweet potato wedges instead of chips.
Tinned tomatoes and tomato puree
Tinned tomatoes are a great base for many dishes such as a tomato and tuna pasta bake, meatballs with a tomato sauce, or a tomato-based chicken stew.
One heaped tablespoon of tomato puree is a portion. Stirring a little puree into Bolognese or a chilli is a great way to add some nutrients and flavour to a meal. Choose a lower-sugar and salt tomato puree too if available.
Fruit juice, vegetable juice or smoothie
Making a juice or smoothie is a great way of using fruits and vegetables that are on special offer or fruits that are just about to go off. Interestingly, the phytonutrient content of berries tends to be at their highest just before the mould appears (Wong, 2017).
It is recommended that we limit fruit/vegetable juices and smoothies to a combined total of 150ml a day (1 portion). This is because when fruit is blended or juiced, it releases the sugars. This can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s best to drink it along with a meal.
NHS website ‘Why 5 a day’. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/why-5-a-day/ (accessed April 2020)
Wong, J (2017) ‘How to Eat Better: How to shop, store and cook to make any food a ‘superfood’’ London: Mitchell Beazley.
Author: Laura Wyness, RNutr
Pic: Pixabay copyright free