An online poll conducted for World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) suggests that only one in five adults in Britain is eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

The YouGov poll conducted earlier this month finds that on average ony 22% of the British adult population is consuming the 5 portions a day recommended by the government.

The figure appears to be at odds with consumer awareness of the 5 a Day message.

In 2000, a survey by the UK’s Food Standards Agency showed consumer awareness of the 5 a Day message was 43%. Another in 2008 showed this had risen to 78%.

Kate Mendoza is head of education at WCRF. She told the press:

“Although people are more aware of the significance of eating 5 A DAY than they used to be, it is clear that there are still barriers to incorporating plant foods into our daily diets.”

“A diet based on plant foods, such as wholegrains and pulses as well as fruit and vegetables, can reduce cancer risk as research shows they protect against a range of cancers. Recent research has confirmed that foods containing fibre reduce the risk of bowel cancer,” she added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults should consume a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day.

The UK’s “5 a Day” message is designed to encourage consumers to think in terms of consuming the 400g a day in 5 portions of 80g each.

For example, the following counts as a full complement of 5 a Day: half a fresh grapefruit, two dried figs, eight cauliflower florets, three heaped tablespoons of baked beans, and an apple.

(View more information on what counts as 5 a Day portion sizes.)

The poll finds that on average only 17% of people in lower income households (socioeconomic groups C2, D and E) are eating at least 5 a Day, compared to 27% in higher income groups A, B and C1.

Regionally, people living in the North of England are the least likely to be eating 5 a Day, while those in the South of England are the most likely (18% compared with 26%). Elsewhere the figures are 21% for London, 22% for Scotland, 23% each for Midlands and Wales, and 24% in Eastern England.

Mendoza said:

“These figures show that many people are still finding it difficult to follow the healthy eating message. Getting at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is the building block of a healthy diet. Not only are fruit and veg a good source of nutrients, they also tend to be low in calories and full of fibre so help us maintain a healthy weight.”

WCRF commissioned the poll of over 2,000 people, to coincide with Cancer Prevention Week which starts on Monday, and ends with “Fruity Friday” on 18 May.

WCRF is also running Beat the Banana!, a 5k fun run in Hyde Park, on the day before, Thursday 17 May.

Here are some tips on getting your 5 a Day:

  • At breakfast, add fruit (try chopped banana or a handful of berries) to cereal or low-fat yogurt, or try adding tomatoes and/or mushrooms to scrambled eggs.
  • Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables count towards your five a day. Used fruit canned in fruit juice rather than sugary syrup, and avoid vegetables canned with added salt or sugar for an even healthier option.
  • You can easily microwave a portion of frozen peas, mixed vegetables or even corn on the cob.
  • And it’s easy to add extra veg or fruit toppings on your pizza: try pineapple chunks, sweetcorn, sliced mushrooms, diced peppers or tomatoes.
  • Add vegetables to your favourite dishes: what about chopped carrots in that bognese sauce, or chopped peppers on pasta.
  • One tip given to me by a fruit and veg stallholder years ago is adding a peeled and cored baking apple when you cook potatoes for mashing. (Remember, potatoes don’t count as one of your 5 a Day, they are classed as a starchy food like pasta or rice).
  • Liven up soups, stews and salads by adding finely sliced vegetables, beans, peas or lentils. (Remember though, that no matter how much you eat, pulses like beans and lentils only count as one of your five a day).
  • Add a salad dish or side portion of one or two vegetables to your main meal.
  • Next time you make a stir fry, sneak in a handful of extra vegetables: peel a carrot and slice strips off it with a vegetable peeler straight into the stir fry, add a few strips of red or yellow pepper, a few extra sliced mushrooms, or roll up a couple of cabbage leaves and cut into thin ribbons and throw those in.
  • Sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough time to do all that chopping and peeling, so try to find ways to sneak it in at other times, such as when you make a meal with vegetables, prepare some extra portions of broccoli and cauliflower florets, or carrot and celery sticks and pop them into the fridge to eat with a low-fat dip the next day.
  • Add grated carrot to a sandwich, or a few extra slices of cucumber or tomato.
  • If you pack lunch boxes for work or for the kids, swap sugary snacks such as biscuits for a piece of fruit.
  • One glass (about 150 ml) of fruit or vegetable juice, unsweetened, counts as one of your 5 a Day, but no matter how much more you have, it still only counts as one of the five.
  • However, if you make a smoothie, using all the edible pulp of the fruits and vegetables you include, it can count as up to two of your five a day, depending on how it’s made. (To really enjoy a smoothie and also give your digestive system a head start, don’t gulp it down, sip it slowly and allow your tongue to explore the flavours before you swallow).

(adapted from NHS Choices)

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD