The ultimate health guide to getting your 5-a-day
For many, getting in 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every single day can be a bit of a challenge. An even more daunting prospect might be the 7-10 portions that have been recommended by a 12-year study by UCL (1). This study confirms what nutritionists already knew; that a diet rich in plant foods is key to a long and healthy life.
If you love your fruit and vegetables, then keep it up! Others, however, may need a few tricks up their sleeve to make consuming adequate amounts manageable, and more importantly enjoyable!
- A smoothie is a brilliant way to kick-start your day. Smoothies are particularly good vehicles for leafy greens, especially if you find these essential vegetables tricky to include in other meals. The taste of a handful of spinach, kale or collard greens, can be easily disguised by a banana, apple or pear. Try adding in half a lime, some mint or coconut water, to add more sweetness. Keeping your smoothie’s vegetable based is key. Focusing too much on fruits will make your smoothie delicious yes, but can overload your liver with too much fructose.Try one portion of fruit per smoothie, and don’t forget to add a source of protein such as almond milk, nut butter, or protein powder – this will help with blood sugar balance, preventing unwanted spikes and energy crashes.
- If you eat porridge in the morning, try replacing your honey, sugar or maple syrup with a couple of spoonfuls of stewed fruit. Rhubarb is a great choice for a compote, or try stewing down some frozen berries. Cooked apples and pears blended together make a delicious fruit puree which can be added to porridge or is delicious when added to unsweetened natural yogurt.
- If you are feeling adventurous you could try adding grated courgette to a bowl of porridge. Surprisingly, this is actually delicious! Courgette is a really versatile vegetable which has a taste that is easily masked by other ingredients. The courgette adds a great source of fibre to your breakfast. Fibre has been shown to lower serum cholesterol, help with weight loss by promoting satiety, and has been associated with benefiting several gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation and colon cancer. Play around with adding courgette as you’ll find you will need a little less liquid added to your porridge when adding the vegetable.
- Eggs are a brilliant way to start the day, especially when combined with a side of spinach or tomatoes. However, when time is short a frittata is an excellent way to eat a protein and vegetable rich breakfast on the go. Try adding spinach, courgette, broccoli, peppers or tomatoes to a traditional frittata recipe.
- If tea and toast is your breakfast of choice, you can add spinach, sweet potato, kale or even beetroot to bread recipes. A slice of veggie toast with almond butter for breakfast would be ideal.
Snacks are an excellent way of including fruit and veg in your diet and keeping your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. Just make sure you are getting a good balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
- Raw vegetables and hummus is a great snack. Why not try blending some extra vegetables into your dip? Whizzing up some cooked broccoli, spinach, kale or beetroot with your hummus works really well and is a great way to cover up the taste of additional vegetables.
- Try replacing regular potato crisps with some homemade crispy goodies. Roasted slices of courgette with parmesan; baked kale leaves with cinnamon; or chickpeas roasted in the oven with paprika are all healthier alternatives and totally delicious!
- Mini muffins! For a sweet snack, try grating courgette and apple into a low-sugar muffin recipe, and add some flaxseed for extra fibre. Savoury muffins can be delicious; spinach, tomato, and feta works wonderfully.
Lunch and Dinner
- Mince is an excellent vehicle for hiding vegetables! Try roasting aubergine, and mixing the scooped-out flesh (which should be soft) into a bolognaise sauce. It will simply disappear!
- You can also add finely chopped mushrooms, lentils or grated courgette to cottage pie or bolognaise.
- Although potatoes are a rich source of nutrients, they are relatively high in carbohydrate and have a high glycaemic index, meaning they can spike your blood sugar. Good replacements for mashed potato are cauliflower, celeriac or broccoli. Once cooked, wizz in a blender or mash with a dash of milk and butter. Try adding a teaspoon of dijon mustard as this gives it a great kick!
- Regular potato chips or wedges can be substituted for sweet potato wedges, or courgette or celeriac fries. Sweet potato has a lower glycaemic index than white potatoes, and is an excellent source of vitamin A which does wonders for your skin and immune system.
- A great vegetable swap for rice, especially if you are looking for something with lower carbohydrate, is cauliflower. Once cut up into small-ish florets, pulse in a food processor until it has the consistency of rice. This can either be fried or steamed.
- One of the best ways of sneaking in green vegetables to your diet is pureeing them in a tomato sauce. Tomatoes have such a wonderful sweetness to them, especially when mixed with tinned tomatoes in a sauce, that the taste of pureed leafy green vegetables can be easily masked.
- Substituting starchy, high carbohydrate spaghetti with a vegetable is a great option. If you have a spiralizer, then courgette, butternut squash, carrot, sweet potato, and celeriac can all be spiralized to make excellent replicas of pasta. You can also use a potato peeler to create ribbons as this will have a similar effect.
- Fruit is an easy way for most to get their intake of plant foods up to the required 5, 7 or even 10 portions a day. However, it is recommended that the majority should be from vegetables.
- There are some delicious recipes which you can find online for sweet potatoes or black beans added to brownies. For a more subtle approach, adding grated courgette to chocolate cake gives it a wonderfully moist texture and is hidden superbly by the chocolate. Adding grated beetroot to brownies has a similar effect but it does add a slightly earthy flavour, so is trickier to hide.
- Making chocolate mousse with avocado may sound slightly extreme, but it really does give it a lovely creamy texture, and the taste of the avocado goes really well with the chocolate.
- A great alternative to sugary ice cream is whizzing up some frozen fruit (mango, banana, berries) with some full fat, unsweetened natural yogurt.
A few things to note...
I hate to break it to you but this popular sauce is definitely not one of your 5 a day. It is full of sugar, harmful chemicals and has absolutely no nutrition value at all. If you really need it, try making your own!
A good source of fibre, however, most brands are full of added sugar. Making your own baked beans is cheap, easy and makes an excellent protein and fibre rich meal (accompanied by some greens please!).
Most are high in sugar, especially any labelled ‘low-fat’. Look out for yogurts with ‘sugar’, ‘syrup’, ‘cane sugar’, ‘molassas’, or anything ending in ‘ose. If this is within the first 3 or 4 ingredients, try and avoid it. A great substitute is mixing unsweetened natural yogurt with pureed fruit.
Fruit juice is fruit without the fibre, and really needs to be avoided as it is extremely high in sugar. Fibre slows down the release of sugar into your blood stream, so without it you are getting a big sugar hit, which inevitably leads to energy spikes and eventual crashes.
Dried fruit is a very condensed form of fruit sugar, often has sugar added it, so is really best avoided. I’m afraid the dried raisins in your morning granola should not count as one of your 5 a day.
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