Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Healthy eating: clarifying advice about fruit and vegetables

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 03 June 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1453
  1. Carol Williams, visiting lecturera
  1. a Human Nutrition Unit, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1H 0BT
  • Accepted 7 March 1995

Consumers need health information which is clear and unambiguous. Advice to “eat more fruit and vegetables” gives consumers no guidance on the quantities involved. Popular advice is to eat “five portions a day.” This paper provides a rationale for determining which foods are included within this advice—for example, processed foods such as baked beans are but potatoes and nuts should not be. It also describes how much of the most commonly consumed fruit and vegetables constitutes a “portion.” A bowlful of salad, for example, is needed to make up a portion but an apple or banana on its own will count.

The government's nutrition task force recently decided that it wanted to provide consumers with information on the amounts of fruit and vegetables, bread and cereals, and fish recommended for a healthy diet. It set up a subgroup to advise on simple and practical messages on the consumption of these foods. This paper reflects the conclusions of that subgroup on fruit and vegetables.

Until recently health advice about fruit and vegetables from government organisations has tended simply to recommend eating “more.” This advice is open to different interpretations concerning which fruit and vegetables are included (does it include potatoes or fruit juice?) and the amounts.

No universally accepted convention exists on which foods should be included in health advice on fruit and vegetables.1 When different definitions are used misleading conclusions can be drawn about current levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, and the interpretation of diretary surveys can be conflicting. Lack of clarity over the status of the more controversial foods such as dried fruit or pulses can lead to confusion and uncertainty among consumers. Disagreement among academics and health professionals over these issues lends further weight to the public perception that …

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