By now, many of us would have received the ‘Go for 2 & 5’ message loud and clear, but most of us are still falling short when it comes to eating enough fruit and vegetables. To clear up any confusion, here’s our guide to getting your 2 & 5 a day.
Eat at least five portions of vegetables and two of fruit each day… and you will be a step closer to improving your health, controlling your weight and preventing many chronic diseases.
It sounds like a simple enough message, but the truth is, when it comes to down to it many of us remain baffled about what really counts. Are potatoes in or out? Are frozen vegetables included? And do we need to eat separate portions of vegetables, or do they still count if they are part of a dish like stew or lasagne? With so many unanswered questions, it’s not surprising that most of us still fail to get enough vegies and fruit each day.
In fact, the most recent National Nutrition Survey found that most Australians eat less than half the amount of fruit and vegies recommended for good health, and only 11% of us eat the recommended servings for both fruit and veg.
It’s not good news when it comes to our kids either. The 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that, on the day of the survey, only 20% of children aged 5–16 ate the recommended two serves of fruit, and only 10% ate four or more serves of vegies (50% ate less than one serve).
Furthermore, of the vegetables that were consumed, half were potatoes and 75% of those potatoes were fried or mashed with added fat! (See our Healthy kids special for more information on how many serves of fruit, vegies and other foods kids should be getting each day.)
Knowing how many fruit and vegie serves you should be aiming for each day (2 & 5) makes it easier to achieve, so we’ve broken it down for you (see below) to make sure you are hitting your daily targets.
Why 2 & 5?
Research strongly suggests that eating a wide variety of fruit and vegies helps reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. There’s also evidence that it may also help reduce weight gain, constipation, blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve control of diabetes.
Both fruit and vegetables are generally nutrient dense – full of vitamins, minerals and fibre – without being very high in kilojoules. However, fruit and starchy vegies like potatoes and corn are higher in energy, as they contain higher amounts of fructose (natural fruit sugar) and carbohydrate respectively. This is why the guidelines recommend less fruit than vegies, and not relying entirely on starchy vegetables.
The current Australian recommendation (released in 2003) is two serves of fruit and five serves of vegies per day. However, these amounts are higher for pregnant (4 fruit and 7 vegies) and breastfeeding (5 fruit and 7 vegies) women. There is also a strong emphasis on eating a wide variety of fruit and vegies (see right). The latest Draft Australian Dietary Guidelines, released in 2011 and still under review, propose that men eat more vegies (6 serves for men aged 19–50 and 5 1/2 for men aged 51–70); that pregnant women eat the same amounts as those who aren’t pregnant; and that breastfeeding women eat the same amount of fruit, but 7 1/2 serves of vegies. While this may sound confusing, if you still aim for 2 & 5 a day you’ll be doing well, and a little more won’t hurt.
Why do I need to eat a variety of fruits and vegies?
Different types of vegetables and fruits contain various combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (including antioxidants), so to get the most benefit it’s best to mix them up. An easy way to check you are getting a good variety of these things is by eating a range of different-coloured vegetables and fruit every day.
Why are vegetables and fruit so important?
They are rich in fibre, which is important for providing satisfaction, for healthy digestion and to help prevent conditions ranging from constipation to bowel cancer.
They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as folate, beta-carotene (which the body uses to make vitamin A), potassium and vitamin C, just to name a few.
They are packed with antioxidants that help stop free radicals attacking our cells, causing damage that can lead to health problems such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
They’re usually low in kilojoules and they fill us up, so they can help us control our weight. They’re also low in fat, unless it is added during preparation.
They are whole foods that, unless processed, have nothing else added (ie. fat, sugar, salt, additives, preservatives).
So what counts?
All varieties of vegetables and fruit count towards your 2 & 5 a day, whether they are fresh, frozen, canned or dried.
However, you need to be aware of the extra fat, kilojoules or sodium that can come with certain methods of preparation and cooking. The way fruit or vegies are prepared can also affect how many nutrients you actually end up getting by the time you eat them.
Remember, they don’t have to be cooked separately or eaten separately — vegetables added to stir-fries, stews, soups, casseroles, pasta or rice dishes and sauces are included. You can also count:
Pure fruit and vegetable juices
With pure fruit or vegie juice, we count one small glass (125ml) as one portion. Drinking more than this doesn’t increase your total because, unlike whole fruit and veg, juices are low in fibre so they won’t fill you up like the real deal. We recommend pure juice as an occasional additional serve, rather than replacing a piece of fruit or veg.
Make sure you use reduced-fat dairy and use at least one serve (see guide below) of fresh fruit or veg (or one of each) to make it worth your while in counting towards your daily fruit and vegie target.
Vegie and fruit in ready-made fods
Vegetables and fruit in ready-made meals, soups, sauces, puddings and takeaways count, but they may also come packaged with large amounts of fat, sugar and/or salt. Check the nutrition information to see whether eating the product is really going to contribute significantly to your 2 & 5. If it’s a bit low, add some more vegies or fruit by either ordering as an extra side dish or throwing some extra fresh or frozen vegies in.
What do we limit?
Potatoes, sweet potato and corn
These starchy vegetables tend to be served as a carbohydrate in the same way as bread, pasta and rice, so when analysing the vegetable serves in our recipes at HFG we count them as a maximum of one vegie serve, no matter how much the actual amount may be. While they are healthy vegies, it’s important to get a wide variety of other low-carbohydrate vegetables with different nutrients.
Legumes and pulses
Such as lentils, kidney beans, baked beans and chickpeas. We count these as one serve regardless of whether you eat more, because they also contain carbohydrate. However, as well as being high in fibre, legumes and pulses contribute protein to your diet – so they make a great addition to your daily intake of vegies, especially if you are vegetarian.
We count one-quarter of a small avocado as a serve of veg (even though it’s technically a fruit). While it’s full of fibre and nutrients, we limit avocado to one serve because, compared to other vegetables and fruit, avocado is very high in fat (although it is ‘good’ fat) and kilojoules — which is worth remembering if you are watching your weight.
Your guide to one serve
This is a rough guide – obviously the size of vegetables and fruit varies widely. The main thing is to make sure you include a range of different-coloured vegetables and fruit in your diet every day. If you know you probably don’t eat enough, start by focusing on where you can add just one more serve to your day.
125mL (1 small glass or 1/2 cup) = 1 serve
What is a serve of vegetables?
As a rough guide, one serve of vegetables is about 75g in weight. Or about:
1 cup raw chopped vegies
1/2 cup cooked chopped vegies
1 cup raw leafy vegies or sprouts
1/2 cup cooked legumes
Or you could use:
1 medium carrot
1 Lebanese cucumber
1 medium onion
1 medium parsnip
1 medium tomato/
7 cherry tomatoes
1 medium zucchini
2 marinated artichoke hearts
1 medium potato
1/4 small avocado
How many serves in one...
Cauliflower = around 13 serves in an average 1kg head
Cabbage = around 12 serves in an average 900g head
Broccoli = around 6 serves in an average 500g head
Eggplant = around 5 serves in an average 400g eggplant
What is a serve of fruit?
As a rough guide, one serve of fresh fruit is about 150g, or one medium-sized piece of fruit or two small pieces of fruit. For example:
5cm slice melon or mango
1/2 cup fruit salad
1/2 cup grapes
1/2 cup berries
1 large mandarin
1 large kiwifruit
What is a serve of dried fruit?
A serve of dried fruit is about 30g, or:
1 1/2 level tablespoons sultanas, currants or dried cranberries, raisins
4 apricot halves
What is a serve of canned fruit?
Choose fruit canned in natural juice rather than syrup.