|Who doesn’t love vibrant veg and funky fruit!|
The first thing to note is that starchy veg like potato, yams, plantain (awww :(…) and cassava are classified as carbs not fruit and veg, although sweet potato, turnips and parsnips do count. You can also count dried fruit and tinned fruit in juice, and I’ve even read on the above website that sweetcorn, peas and beans (even baked beans) are allowed, but I think maybe they’re too much like other food groups (proteins, grains, carbs) so personally, I don’t count those. And don’t think you can just eat an enormous fruit salad and get all your portions that way, either- obviously, that’s better than nothing, but the key for maximum benefit is to get a variety of fruit and veg, not all fruit, which can be high in sugar. Sticking to the “eat a rainbow” principle is good, as different colours denote different nutritional profiles, eg: red, orange and yellow produce is high in beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, and dark purple/ blue fruit like blueberries, grapes and blackberries contain the powerful antioxidant proanthocyanin.
About portion sizes: I once heard a very sensible suggestion that a portion is what you can comfortably hold in your hand, as people vary in size and requirements, but nowadays a portion is more often given as a weight. for children, the what-you-can-fit-into-the-palm-of-your-hand rule is great, but it’s more precise for adults: For fruit, one piece is one portion when it comes to apples, bananas etc. but for small fruit like plums or kiwis 2 of them= 1 portion. Or, in the case of apricots, 3. Or, in the case of strawberries, 7 or cherries, 14. Large fruit like grapefruit, on the other hand, count as 2 portions each. A 5-cm slice of melon, papaya, pineapple or mango counts as 1 portion. In terms of dried fruit, 30g or 1 heaped tablespoon equals one portion- or 2 figs, or 3 prunes. As for vegetables, 2 broccoli spears or 4 tablespoons of leafy veg/ green beans, 8 cauliflower florets or 3 tablespoons of other cooked veg count as one portion. When it comes to salad vegetables, 3 sticks of celery, one medium tomato, seven cherry tomatoes or a 5-cm piece of cucumber equal one portion. Tinned or frozen vegetables follow the same guidelines as fresh. If you want to count pulses, then three heaped tablespoons equal one portion, but you can only count one of these a day, no matter how many you eat. (So if you ate a large can of baked beans for breakfast, it still only counts as one portion and if you then had chilli beans for dinner that day they wouldn’t count at all.)
…Phew! Now all that’s out of the way- and believe me, it was quite tedious to write- let’s get onto the ideas for getting more portions of fruit and veg into your daily diet:
- Juice it: Fresh fruit and veg juices are energising and delicious! Rather than counting the fruit and veg portions before you juice them, bear in mind hat 150ml unsweetened juice is one portion. Like beans, you can only count one of these a day. And remember that juicing or blending fruit will release the sugar faster into your bloodstream.
- Smooth talking: A smoothie makes a great breakfast or afternoon snack, and you can pack it full of protein and omega oils from plant milks and seeds, too. The thing to remember with smoothies is that a smoothie can count as two portions only if you use 2x80g or150ml juice and 1x80g serving of different fruits or veggies in one smoothie.
- Smart sarnies: If you take a pitta, sandwich, wrap or baguette in your lunchbox, don’t just put a boring old lettuce leaf in there; cram it full of as much raw veg as you can- or take your salad in a separate tub. (One of my favourites is home made hummus, vegetable sticks and oatcakes).
- Get more fruity: You can get the day off to a flying start if you include fresh fruit as part of your breakfast: eg: slice a banana and a pear or a portion of berries over your cereal or yoghurt. A piece of fresh fruit or a few dried apricots makes a virtuous and nourishing anytime snack or dessert. I usually aim for 3 pieces of fruit a day- some people say that any more than that is too much sugar.
- Swap carbs for cauli: As long as you make sure you are getting enough calories to see you through the day, try swapping some carby foods like pasta and rice for vegetable versions. If you throw raw cauliflower in your food processor, you get “rice”, and the pasta in tagliatelle and lasagne can be swapped for spaghetti squash/courgette ribbons and thinly sliced aubergine.
- Make a date with dried fruit: (Bad pun, sorry.) A bag of dried fruit is easy to take out and about with you and a great standby that will help stop you grabbing crisps or chocolate. Add some nuts and/ or seeds and you have a power-packed and tasty snack. Some of my favourite dried fruits are apricots, figs and lexia raisins.
- Add more veggies: If you are cooking something like tofu scramble or vegan omelette, you can chop some greens, peppers,asparagus, tomatoes etc. in to boost up the veg content of your meal. (Don’t forget to have more salad or veg on the side though.)
- Grate idea for kids: Veggies like courgettes, carrots, sweet potatoes or parsnip can be finely grated and added to a tomato-based pasta sauce and if you’re lucky, they won’t notice a thing! (This is good for reluctant adults too…)
For more info, try: http://www.nhs.uk/ Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Portionsizes.aspx
Do you have any tips of your own to share? We’d love to hear them…