Cooking from scratch everything my family eats has always made me feel a tad smug. And chucking into those meals five fruit and vegetables a day isn’t that difficult.
I will, however, qualify this to say I am not one of those people who run around clasping a green juice and swearing by its antioxidant properties. Smoothies of all kinds have passed me by, but perhaps this is because I have five children. Whizzing up kale and cucumber concoctions for all seven of us is too noisy and messy.
Instead, I am a proficient home cook. Knocking up a roast chicken with five types of roasted vegetables, then using the stock to make veg-packed minestrone, is something I can, quite literally, do with my eyes closed. This means five-a-day comes naturally. But a new book wants to set the bar even higher.
Mother-of-five Clover Stroud (pictured) shared a food diary of her attempt to eat more than five fruit and vegetable portions each day
According to plant scientist and broadcaster James Wong, five is for wimps and we should all be eating ten-a-day to live longer — and dramatically healthier — lives.
Ten? There are, after all, only so many apples I can eat in a day, and I’m daunted by the quantity of chopping I might be forced to do.
However, when I call James for a quick chat about how to square up to the challenge of doubling our fruit and vegetable consumption — visualising having to bribe the kids to chomp piles of raw spinach — he’s incredibly reassuring.
‘Relax! It’s not that hard,’ he tells me, reminding me our sense of portion size has got out of control, and that people overestimate what constitutes a single serving.
Half an apple, at 80g, is one serving, as is a few florets of broccoli or a spoonful of tomato puree.
And he reminds me I can use canned or frozen products, so this is not a diet dependent on munching mountains of crudites. ‘It tots up quickly, I promise,’ he reassures me.
I’ve been trying to kick my lazy morning habit of devouring toast and shop-bought jam, so I start with half an apple and half a pear chopped over muesli, with extra raisins.
Add a glass of orange juice and that’s four portions without trying. Beans and pulses can make up one portion, so at lunch I hunt around the fridge for hummus, which I eat in a wrap with grated carrot, lettuce and pepper.
Plant scientist James Wong believes the salad in shop-bought sandwiches is not enough to count as a whole portion
James is adamant that, in a shop-bought sandwich, a sliver of lettuce and single cucumber slice doesn’t count as a whole portion but, as I’m making this at home, I’m generous with the veg.
So lunch is another four. I’m only halfway through the day and already have eight portions!
We have pancakes for supper, but since lemon juice can’t, sadly, count as a portion, I whip up garlic mushrooms, trying not to feel I’m missing out as the kids devour a pile with Nutella. To console myself, I slice banana into a pancake and hit ten portions.
I don’t have time to do James’s triple berry hotcakes, so revert to fruit and raisin muesli, adding some pieces of orange.
Lunch in an uninspiring cafe is a baked potato, which doesn’t count. I ask for a salad on the side and get a few slices of onion, limp lettuce and a slice of tomato.
It’s so pathetic I can count it as only one portion, but I add a fruit salad with grapes, canned pineapple and orange segments, reminding myself of James’s advice that canned and frozen is fine.
By mid-afternoon I’m starving and have peanut butter spread on dates and an apple.
Clover (pictured) was able to eat 14 portions of fruit and vegetables in one day by having salad as a side at lunch, adding fruit to her breakfast cereal and doubling the quantities of vegetables in her cottage pie for dinner
I make cottage pie for supper, doubling the quantities of veg, with peas, lentils, and carrots, plus white beans and onions in the mash.
With the onions and canned tomatoes, that’s a whopping seven just for supper.
I’m on the go in London all day and don’t have time for a proper breakfast, grabbing a banana and apple instead. At the station, I eye some raspberry muffins but, since there are only two or three fruit per cake, I can’t make it count.
I skip lunch as I’m in meetings, and also skip the spare apple as I can’t face it, instead buying a pot of carrot and hummus from M&S.
That evening, I’m invited to a Spanish restaurant — the plates of chorizo and patatas bravas mean I’m woefully low on fresh veg.
I beg the waitress for some greens. She brings lettuce, which I add to a few pieces of tomato and some padron peppers.
Clover (pictured) swapped toast for vegetables to fulfill her craving for a bacon breakfast
I’m sick of chopped apple for breakfast and I’m craving bacon, so, after dropping off the kids at school, I cook it with tomatoes, mushrooms, an avocado and add a handful of spinach. Normally I’d just have it on toast.
Working at home, I make myself tomato and red pepper soup with an onion and celery base, feeling virtuous that I’m at eight portions already.
I’m out for supper again, but we go for Lebanese, where a single salad is made up of four different types of veg, taking my total to 12 today.
Half a bottle of red wine that evening does not, however, count.
A rare day off so I experiment with James’s recipes and knock up a ‘full Mexican’ breakfast, with six portions of vegetables.
I make sausages and rice for lunch, but adopt James’s tip of adding peas and tomatoes. So, with breakfast, that’s eight portions.
At supper, I make James’s favourite sweet potato and parsnip fries with salsa, beans and spring onions. James is a big fan of puddings, so I pig out on apple and blackberry crumble with mango custard.
That’s 16 portions in a single day. I’m delighted — and full.
After increasing her fruit and vegetables intake for a week, Clover lost 1½ in from her waist and 1 lb in weight (file image)
Before I started the test, I gave myself a quick health assessment — weight 10 st 8 lb; waist 33 in; cholesterol 5 mmol/L.
By the end of the week, my cholesterol remained unchanged, but I’d lost 1½ in from my waist and 1 lb in weight.
Not earth-shattering, but I had only done five days. However, I am surprised by the change to the way I put food together.
Without thinking about it, I’m hitting ten portions or more and have dramatically cut down on bread and pasta.
I’m not cooking pure vegetarian food, but a shift in thinking means that veg, more than fruit, forms the basis of my cooking.
It did feel harder to do this on the go than when cooking at home, but this doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise. I’m now adding more veg — fresh and frozen — to everything I cook, including simple dishes like rice or mash, which not only feels more nutritious, but is also cheaper than cooking a lot of meat.
Best of all, there’s not a kale smoothie in sight.
. . the tips and tricks you need to make it work for YOU!
by James Wong
This morning, I took a dose of something that could slash my risk of heart disease by nearly 25 per cent. It could reduce my risk of a stroke in later life by a third, and confer protection against a range of common cancers, too.
The latest research even suggests this ‘treatment’ is capable of cutting my risk of premature death from any cause by a whopping 30 per cent. Want to know the secret?
No, it wasn’t some kind of miracle pill. It was simply my breakfast. And it wasn’t an awful ‘superfood’ green smoothie, either — just cereal and toast, like millions of other people ate this morning.
James Wong (pictured) says every extra portion of fruit and vegetable consumed goes towards reducing the risk of various illnesses including cardiovascular disease
All I did differently was to chuck a handful of berries on the cereal, slice a banana on to my toast and pour myself a glass of juice. That’s it. Plain and simple.
These little tweaks boosted my intake of fruit and veg by three to four portions in a single sitting. Repeated at each meal, this would add up to about ten portions a day — double the minimum recommended daily intake of the good stuff.
Why is this relevant? Well, according to a growing body of international studies, getting beyond five-a-day and closer to ten confers significantly more protection against the diseases that most affect the Western world.
Yes, ten-a-day — not five. The fact is, those now-famous five-a-day guidelines always tended towards the minimum end of what science suggests we need.
Even at the time of their publication in 1990, we knew that five-a-day was not based on levels optimal for good health, but the least amount required to enjoy a significant health benefit.
Your guide to what one portion looks like
One portion is 80g (2¾oz) of whole fruit or veg, but a portion can be much smaller than you think. One apple, for example, at about 160g (5½oz), is two portions right there.
A quarter of a can of baked beans does it too, or half an avocado; six strawberries, or three florets of broccoli.
Or 30g (1oz) dried fruit or veg. During the drying process, water lost from fruit leads to a reduction in weight, meaning 30g (1oz) dried fruit or veg is the equivalent of a whole portion of fresh.
One portion equals three dried apricots, a handful of dried mushrooms or a dessert spoonful of tomato purée.
Since then, we’ve discovered even more convincing evidence to show that the positive effects of fruit and vegetable consumption are cumulative.
In other words, for every extra portion of fruit and vegetables you enjoy, your statistical risk of various illnesses falls — especially cardiovascular disease.
Stroke risk reduces by a whopping 17 per cent with each extra portion, for example, and heart disease by 5 per cent. (The benefits eventually seem to plateau, with researchers suggesting an optimal intake of nine-a-day for heart health.)
A high intake of fruit and veg could well make a difference to your risk of getting cancer, too.
The largest and best-quality study to date on cancer and diet, published by the National Cancer Institute, found that those who ate about eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day had an 11 per cent lower total risk of developing any form of the disease.
In fact, dietitians across the board agree that the simplest dietary change you can make for good health is to consume more fruit and vegetables.
But, no matter what the lab geeks say, is scaling up towards ten portions of fruit and veg a day feasible? Could it be done easily by someone leading a busy life, who is also relatively lazy?
Yes, with a few super-simple tips and tricks . . .
James revealed jams and condiments that are loaded with sugar or salt don’t count towards one of ten-a-day (file image)
THE DISHES THAT DO NOT COUNT
- Potatoes. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but potatoes don’t make the cut because of their higher calorie content and lower amounts of nutrients when compared to other fruit and veg.
(Weirdly, sweet potatoes, parsnips and swedes do count because, in general, the balance of nutrients to calories they contain is tipped in their favour.)
- Hight-fat foods, such as onion rings and coleslaw, don’t count either. The massive amount of added fat is considered to negate the benefits of the veg content.
- Similarly, jams and condiments won’t tick off one of your ten portions, as they are loaded with sugar or salt.
FIVE COMMON FOOD MYTHS BUSTED
You hear people say that getting more fruit and vegetables in their diet involves hours of chewing, huge amounts of prep and a massively prohibitive cost. I was a sceptic too — but now I’ve done it, I can honestly say none of that’s true. Let’s bust some myths.
1. It takes time and effort
In fact, it’s easy to get your hands on an effortless veggie boost in seconds — an apple as you dash out the door, a shop-bought fruit salad on your lunch break, a can of baked beans on toast, a handful of frozen mixed veg put in an omelette, a pot of low-fat hummus. All will do it.
. . . and, yes, these count too!
- Baked beans.
- Baked sweet potato wedges.
- Canned pasta in tomato sauce.
- Canned vegetable soup.
- Fruit bars (containing 30g/1oz dried fruit and no added sugar).
- Fruit compote.
- Ice lollies (made with 100 per cent fruit juice).
- Muesli (containing 30g/1oz dried fruit and no added sugar).
- Store-bought smoothies and juice (with no added sugar).
2. It’s expensive
One portion of veg can cost as little as a quarter the price of one portion of meat. So choosing more veg is good for your health and your wallet.
3. Fresh is best
Research consistently shows frozen fruit and veg are nutritionally comparable, and sometimes even superior, to the fresh kind.
4. Fruit is full of sugar
The sweet stuff in whole fruit is trapped within a matrix of plant fibres, which slows down how quickly it’s released into your bloodstream.
Dietitians are quite clear: the intrinsic sugars found in whole fruit should not limit your consumption.
5. Organic is better
In terms of our health, the research is contradictory.
When experts have gathered together all the best-quality studies and tried to sift through the numbers to find patterns, no significant difference in the levels of vitamins and minerals has been found.
10-a-Day The Easy Way by James Wong (Mitchell Beazley, £20) octopusbooks.co.uk © James Wong 2019. To buy a copy for £16 (20 per cent discount) go to mailshop/books.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640. Offer valid until March 18, 2019. P&P is free on orders over £15.