Variety should be key in your quest for five a day

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Since the World Health Organisation began recommending a daily intake of 400g of fruit and vegetables to lower the risk of serious health problems, the old adage of ‘five a day’ has gradually become ingrained into the social consciousness.

But the reality is that the majority of us are lagging behind and the average UK citizen only manages three daily portions of fruit and veg.

Now, with recent reports claiming that it’s actually eight portions we need to be eating on a daily basis to stave off heart disease, it’s time we all start thinking more carefully about how best to up our vitamin intake through healthy eating.

A balanced diet should incorporate a range of vitamins and minerals; fruit and vegetable provide essentials like vitamin C – vital for healthy growth and development – and the range of vitamin B complexes that promote good digestion, energy production and a healthy nervous system.

As well as helping sustain your body in the healthiest way possible, swapping high calorie snacks like biscuits and chocolate for a piece of fruit or replacing starch-heavy potatoes with a side salad in your meals can aid weight loss when combined with regular exercise.

The easiest way to add more fruit and veg to your family’s diet is to slip it in to dishes you’d normally eat unnoticed.

So add red peppers to a Bolognese sauce, put a portion of beans or pulses in to stews or throw a handful of tomatoes into an omelette.

Remember, though, that the type of fruit and veg you are eating is as important as the quantity.

A basic starting point is to ensure your fridge is filled with as many colours as possible – all the way from orange (carrots are rich in vitamin A) through to green (leafy greens like spinach and broccoli provide iron and calcium) and purple (aubergines will up your folic acid – particularly important during pregnancy – and potassium intake while blueberries are packed with a variety of micronutrients).

Eating right doesn’t have to involve regular trips to the supermarket to pick up fresh produce, though.

When it comes to your five a day, canned fruit and veg count too (those preserved in juice or water are healthiest), as does unsweetened fruit juice and dried fruit.

Stock up the freezer with quick frozen, nutrient-rich vegetables as well and use these kitchen staples to bulk out your fresh fruit and veg intake.

As a quick guide, one portion of fruit or veg can be made up of any of the following.

· Two plums

· Seven strawberries

· One apple

· One banana

· One slice of melon

· One slice of pineapple

· One heaped tablespoon of raisins

· Two canned pear halves

· Two broccoli spears

· Three heaped tablespoons of sweetcorn

· One medium tomato

· Three heaped tablespoons of frozen carrots

· Three heaped tablespoons of baked beans

· One 150ml glass of unsweetened 100 per cent fruit juice

For further help and advice, the NHS Change 4 Life website, as well as The Food Standards Agency’s Eat Well and NHS Choices websites, offer easy-to-implement tips on improving your diet.