Q+A: What's a 'portion' of fruit and veg?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Peta Bee

Q Since becoming a runner, I’ve become very conscious of my diet. I am, however, confused over one fairly fundamental issue – the recommendation that we should consume a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. I eat at least five to six bits of fruit a day, but only one or two portions of veg. Is there an optimum mixture? And what are the consequences of eating more of one than the other?

A The figure of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day was set by the Department of Health and is the standard which most nutritionists encourage us to meet. Over the last 20 years or so, our consumption of fruit and vegetables has actually fallen steadily; so much so that the average adult consumes less than that amount in a week and most teenagers fare even worse.

The ratio of fruit to vegetables is not important – both contain a similar combination of important vitamins and minerals – but you should remember that one portion is equal to a piece of fruit or a large serving-spoonful of vegetables. One of the servings can be fruit juice or a smoothie, but potatoes don’t count.

In recent years scientists have done a lot of research into how fruit and veg protect our health. As well as fibre, vitamins and minerals, they are rich in substances called phytochemicals, which help to fight the potentially harmful free radicals linked to a range of diseases. The American Cancer Institute, and Cancer Research, estimate that as many as 50 per cent of all cancers are linked to diet. Several studies have shown that populations with diets rich in fruit and vegetables run the lowest risk of cancer.

The best way to increase your intake is by snacking on fruit or raw vegetables throughout the day. Many people struggle to meet the recommendations, but you seem to be exceeding them – which is a good thing.

However, in Australia, even your admirable diet would be considered only just about up to scratch. The government down under encourages people to munch seven portions of fruit and vegetables every day to better their health.—Peta Bee, RW Nutrition Editor


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