Food as Medicine
Are we eating enough fruit and vegetables?
Do Australians eat the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables consisting of 2 or more serves of fruits and 5 or more serves of vegetables? What is our scorecard? Are we achieving this? A recent National survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 45% of Australian women and 46% of Australian men did not eat enough fruit. But more shockingly, 90% of women and yes, 96% of men did not eat 5 serves of vegetables a day. Yes, that means that only 4% of men did.
Men on average had 1.6 serves of fruit and 2.3 serves of vegetables per day. Women did slightly better at 1.8 serves of fruit and 2.5 years of vegetables. We are clearly not winning the game of obesity and losing the game of fruit and vegetable intake.
What is a serve?
A serve of fresh fruit is a medium piece (about 150gms) and a serve of vegetables is half a cup. These specific targets are based on the nutritional requirements for the average Australian.
This is equivalent to 1 medium sized fruit such as an orange, pear, apple or banana or 2 small fruits like apricots or nectarines. As mentioned in my programs, if we are eating for weight loss the best fruits to eat are the ones which are not too sweet like berries, watermelon, peaches, apples and pears.
A serve of vegetables is about 75g. This is equivalent to ½ a cup of vegetables. For weight loss eating, it is best to avoid the root vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato and sweetcorn and to eat more brocolli, cauliflower and spinach.
Why do we need to eat so many fruit and vegetables?
A high intake of fruit and vegetables lowers the risk of obesity related medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular disease and stroke. There is a large body of evidence showing that the risk of these health conditions is reduced as we eat more fruit and vegetables.
A meta-analysis of cohort studies following over 450,000 participants showed that the higher the intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease. There was an average reduction of 4% with every additional serve of vegetables.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study showed that people who followed this diet rich in fruit and vegetables reduced their systolic blood pressure by as much as 11 mm Hg and dystolic as much 6 mm HG. This is as much as medication can acheive.
The reseach on the consuption of fruit and vegetables is compelling for preventing type 2 diabetes. Studies combining over 188,000 Health professionals who were free of major chronic disease found that the greater the consumption of whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes and apples were associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Some recent research including Eat for Health Guideline even suggests that our current targets are not enough and the optimal intake at reducing heart disease and improved life expectancy is around 10 serves. Whatever we are aiming for, the clear message is that we should be eating more.
How can we increase our fruit and vegetable intake?
The home, work and school environments are three key influences of both children’s and adults’ consumption of food and beliefs. Parents are the “food gatekeepers” and the main role models for children. Where there is parental encouragement, role modelling and family rules, there is increased food and vegetable intake. It is also essential for workplaces to encouraged good food habits such as replacing vending machines with fresh fruit, making kitchenettes easier for food prep and replacing morning food events with healthier options and themes. Encouraging fruit and vegetable intake at schools such as “brain food” are investments we should continue to make. These things may sound so simple and elementary but they are the grassroots of setting good foundations for increasing our fruit and vegetable intake
Variety is the spice of life
It has also been found that the more variety in fruit and vegetables available, the more we will consume. Perhaps the easiest way to get at least 3 vegetables into our diet is at the evening meal. So increasing the different type of vegetables with a variety of enticing recipes is an easy way for us to meet our daily requirements. Using both fresh and frozen options are ways we can make these quick and cost effective. Remember, young children need to try something 13 times before they develop a liking for it. So don’t give up after 1 or 2 attempts. This is especially important in the first 4 years of life will shape a child’s likelihood of being overweight. For older children, linking sporting idols to healthy eating is a great way for them to set sporting goals and link the benefits of eating nutritious foods to achievements.
If you need a good foundation or start at getting at improving your food and vegetables intake, have a look at our Redefine Metabolic Weight Loss Program. It is a 6 week step by step diet and exercise program based on evidence based eating such as the Mediterranean Diet and Dash Diets.