Know What 10-A-Day Really Means
It can get a little confusing, especially as there are some limits when it comes to the fruit side of your daily allowance. Henrietta Norton, Harley Street Nutritional Therapist and found of Wild Nutrition gives us the lowdown:
“Generally speaking, a portion of fruit is around 80g. This is the equivalent of two small fruits, such as plums or satsumas; one of any medium fruit, like apples and pear; and a generous slice of a large fruit – melon and pineapple, for example. With berries, a couple of handfuls or a cup is a useful guide. A portion of vegetables is also around 80g and, again, a generous handful of each vegetable (e.g. kale, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower florets) will ensure that your portions count. It’s not just the nutrient content of vegetables that are important, but also the fibre content to support healthy digestion and gut health.
“However, while there is no limit on eating vegetables, you should be sticking to no more than two portions of fruit per day, due to the fruit sugar content. Official recommendations limit fruit juice to 150ml a day (a glass of orange juice) in terms of what you can count towards your quota. But this is different to a smoothie, where you would ingest the whole fruit.”
And Know What Doesn’t Count
Let’s get this straight once and for all: potatoes don’t count as one of your 10-a-day. Which is a real shame because we all know they’re delicious. “They don’t count as part of your daily intake as they are classed as a carbohydrate,” explains Kiri Elliot, a lecturer in Dietetics at Birmingham University (and neither do yams, cassava or plantain). “They fall in the same category as bread, rice and pasta because their main contribution to your diet is energy. Having said this, potatoes can be a great source of vitamin C and when the skins are left on.”
However, root vegetables do count towards your intake, such as parsnips and swedes. “Opting for sweet potato provides a rich source of vitamins (e.g. Vitamin A and C), antioxidants (Vitamin C and E) and phytochemicals - a range of beneficial nutrients derived from plants, important for optimal health,” says Henrietta.
Get Yourself A Magimix
When you’re trying to incorporate more fruit and veg into your diet, a blender will become your new best friend. This is because they’re ideal for making smoothies and soups, which is the ideal way to pack in a shedload of your daily intake. “If you have a blender at home, dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are not only some of the most nutrient dense foods, but make brilliant bases for nutritious smoothies and juices,” explains Henrietta. “Including a handful of spinach and/or kale will deliver a big hit of vitamin K, C and A, as well as minerals folate and calcium. For those who enjoy earthy flavours, beetroot will add vibrancy and powerful antioxidants. Then adding high fibre, naturally sweetened fruits such as berries, pears and apples, are super versatile, containing lots of vitamins, minerals and slow releasing sugars to keep energy balanced and nutrients topped up.”
However, there is a caveat to this: when fruits are broken down, they lose some of their nutritional value. “Broken-down fruits contain less fibre, which is something most of us get too little of anyway,” says Sophie Thurner, Nutritionist & personal trainer. “Additionally, when fruit is broken down its natural sugar is released from inside the cell wall to the outside, making it get to the blood stream more easily and quickly. I therefore recommend adding only two portions of fresh fruit – and go easy on additional sweetness, such as honey or agave syrup. Vegetables, however, are a great addition, especially for people that aren’t fond of veggies. Cauliflower, cabbage, chard, spinach, frozen peas and courgette all make an excellent smoothie addition, adding ample of nutrients as well as texture.”
Switch It Up
If you’re not sure just where to include your fruits and your veggies, or you’re getting bored of making a vegetable-heavy dinner, for example, then try switching it up a bit. “Throwing a handful of halved grapes or pomegranate onto savoury salads can add a burst of colour and sweetness as well as some great micronutrients,” says Kiri. “Plus, it’s a lovely idea for the summer.”
Sneak Them In
We know that 10-a-day sounds hard to achieve. But it is easier than you think, if you’re willing to get a little sneaky. Simply try hiding vegetables in your meals, suggests Kiri: “Grating vegetables is a great way to incorporate them into homemade composite meals or sauces and stews, as often people don’t notice they are there. Grating carrots and courgettes for example is a great way to add fibre into curries or pasta sauces.”
Or, if you’re a real bread fiend, you can hide them in there – “Try courgette loaf – a bread made with almond flour and courgettes, or carrot muffins,” Henrietta says. “This is very good for getting vegetables into fussy adults or children.”
Try Dried Alternatives
Fruit comes in all shapes and sizes, and one of those is dried. While obviously it’s best to eat fresh fruit and veg, sometimes that’s not always possible if you’re on the go. Carrying a little bag of dried fruit with you could be a real saviour. “The best way to consider dried fruit is that it is a condensed version of its non-dried counterpart so much smaller quantities are recognised as a portion size,” says Kiri. “Whereas a typical portion of fruit and veg is around 80g, for dried fruit it is just 30g.”
But you need to be careful no to eat too much of the dried stuff, as it can be bad for your teeth. “Dried fruit can be a good snack and is certainly a healthier alternative to crisps and chocolate,” Matt Durkin, a nutritionist for Simply Supplements, says. “However, as they are high in sugar, I would only recommend that dried fruit is consumed occasionally.” Check the labels to see if there are any added sugars and if there are, try a different brand.
Forget about carrots and peppers, if you’re running low on veggie ideas, remember that beans, pulses and legumes count towards your 10-a-day. “They provide appreciable amounts of protein and are very high in fibre, which is something we don’t get enough of. They should really make more of an appearance on our plate,” says Matt – we couldn’t agree more.
It’s Ok To Go Frozen
People always seem wary about frozen fruit and veg, but when the fresh stuff can be expensive – and let’s face it, go off quite quickly – frozen versions of the healthy stuff can be really helpful and, as Matt points out, often cheaper. Easy to cook and helping reduce food waste, don’t be afraid to head to the frozen aisle on your next shop, says Henrietta: “They’re a great option, as many fruit and vegetables are frozen very quickly after being picked and not frozen using chemicals. 'Fresh' can be a misleading term - which is why it’s good to take a closer look at where you buy your vegetables (consider an organic box or try local markets). I like to have a balance of both at home - as sometimes if the fridge is a bit bare, I might be saved by some frozen peas and spinach to make a tasty quick supper.”
Encourage Kids To Eat Their Veggies
If you can, you should get children into eating fruit and vegetables from an early age. Bonnie Stowell, nutritionist and founder of plant-based delivery service Spring Green London, has several tactics for getting kids interested in eating their greens. First is to blitz up the vegetables into tiny pieces and blend it with rice or their favourite pasta sauce – they’ll never know! Next, give them grapes, blueberries and raspberries: “With fruit, kids tend to love bite-sized pieces – these are all sweet and small which seems to work well, and they’re all nutritionally rich too.” If your kids are a little on the fussy side, Bonnie suggests making them a fruit smoothie: “Pack it with bananas, berries and any milk your kids like – it’s a great way to pack lots of vitamins into their diet.”
Learn How To Cook Them
Yes, vegetables can get boring if all you’re doing is boiling them night after night, but did you know this can also affect how much of the goodness you’re getting? “Certain nutrients can be destroyed during the boiling process,” Matt advises. “Instead, try roasting, sautéing and stir-frying vegetables for something a little more exciting – and by adding herbs, spices and other natural flavour enhancers such as garlic, it can help lift the dish even further.”
Use Veg As A Meat Substitute
Most people are adopting a flexitarian lifestyle anyway, so you might as well join them. There are plenty of easy ways to swap your regular meat for a veggie substitute. “Nuts and legumes are good substitutes for meat,” Matt says. “Meals such as vegetable and cashew stir fry, chickpea and spinach curry (chana saag masala) and lentil soup all examples of tasty and nutritious vegetarian options.”
“If you’re looking for mouthfeel and consistency, mushrooms are a great substitute,” adds Sophie. “You can marinate them to make them extremely flavourful. Use chopped shiitake mushrooms to add into a mushroom Bolognese, use big Portobello mushrooms instead of a steak, or use some button mushrooms in a curry. Another good substitute for mouthfeel and texture is jackfruit. Pulled jackfruit makes a great stuffing in baked sweet potatoes and in a wrap with beans and mango. Neither of these is an adequate substitute to meats in terms of protein, though.”
Need Some Inspiration?
If you’re still feeling stuck on how to get your 10-a-day, here are our experts favourite veggies recipes:
“For a fuss-free, portable lunch, make a veggie-packed wrap or sandwich. A hummus, roast pepper and spinach wholegrain wrap, for instance, can be a deliciously satisfying meal. If you’re not vegan, add some grilled haloumi or parmesan shavings. A sandwich built of sourdough bread, avocado, bean (or other sprouts) and (drained) kimchi has lots of gut-health promoting properties. Two slices of granary bread spread with vegan basil pesto, roast aubergine, sun-dried tomato and watercress has lovely summery flavours. Add mozzarella if you’re not vegan or slices of pear if you’re feeling adventurous.
Dinners are the easiest way to incorporate an amplitude of vegetables and fruits. Stir-fries and stews are dishes where you can add any vegetable you like, from okra and broccoli over different kind of squash to asparagus and mushrooms. They’re perfect dishes to use as part of a fridge clean-up. They’re also great to use canned and frozen veg in. If you’re having pasta for dinner, try adding some “courgetti” (spiralised courgette) to your regular spaghetti – adding volume and nutrients. Add all the veg to your heart’s desire to the sauce: celery, carrot, fennel, peppers – if you don’t like it chunky just simmer them all in some tinned tomatoes, let cool and blitz in a food processor to get a smooth nutritious sauce.” – Sophie Thurner, Nutritionist & personal trainer.
“At Spring Green London our main focus is to pack as many nutrient dense delicious plants into the meals. The most recent thing I made was by mistake, and what I now call my jade broccoli rice. I was trying to make a different dish and realised after I had blitzed the broccoli that I didn’t have the correct ingredients and was left with cooked rice and blitzed raw broccoli. I didn’t want to waste the broccoli, so I added it to the hot rice, and it made the most beautiful green rice that tasted fantastic with the beetroot curry I had. That was a really great way of adding veg, and it not only enhanced the dish but tasted delicious.” – Bonnie Stowell, nutritionist and founder of Spring Green London.
“Add veg to pre-prepared items – so a shop bought oven-cook pizza could be loaded with home chopped bell peppers, onion, tomatoes and mushrooms, or a tin of sweetcorn and some frozen spinach could be mixed into a jar of sauce as you heat it.” – Kiri Elliott, lecturer in Dietetics at Birmingham University.
“For a day’s worth of fruit and veg, try this:
Breakfast: Three-egg omelette with spinach, tomato, mushrooms, cheese and a slice of wholemeal bread.
Lunch: Quinoa salad with a handful of mixed nuts.
Dinner: Chicken fajitas with onions, peppers, salsa and guacamole.
Snacks: Blueberries and Greek yoghurt; vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, cucumber) with hummus.”
– Matt Durkin, nutritionist for Simply Supplements.
For more information visit WildNutrition.com