We all know we should eat more fruit and vegetables, but do you know why?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends we eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily to reduce our risk of stroke, heart disease and some types of cancer.
Are you getting your 5 a day? If you’re not sure, it’s worth paying attention to how your body looks and feels, as this can hold clues.
This article reveals why you shouldn’t ignore the 5 a day recommendation, and how to tell if you need to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Why do you need to eat fruit and vegetables?
Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that help your body to function properly. They contain:
- antioxidants - these may help protect the body against harmful chemicals
- fibre - the part of the plant that’s not digested. It maintains blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol levels and prevents constipation
You should eat at least 5 different fruits and vegetables every day, such as:
- 2 broccoli spears or 4 heaped tablespoons of cooked kale, spinach, spring greens or green beans
- 3 heaped tablespoons of baked beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans or chickpeas (no matter how much you eat, these can only count as 1 portion)
- 1.5 full-length celery sticks, a 5cm piece of cucumber, 1 medium tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes
- 1 glass (150ml) of pure fruit juice (contributes to 1 portion only)
What happens if you don’t eat enough?
Not getting enough fruit and vegetables can increase your risk of many conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
This means that it’s important to not only keep your fruit and vegetable intake high, but also know how to tell if you aren’t eating enough of them.
Here are 5 signs that you need to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Brittle hair and nails
Biotin is a B vitamin (vitamin B7) that’s found in a variety of fruit and vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and bananas. A lack of biotin can cause thinning or splitting of the hair and nails. Biotin helps to convert food into energy and strengthens your hair and nails. Other symptoms of biotin deficiency can include:
- chronic fatigue
- muscle pain
- cramps and tingling in your hands and feet
There are a few reasons why you may have bleeding gums, and one is vitamin C deficiency. Your body doesn’t make vitamin C, so you need to make sure you’re getting enough of it from your diet.
Vitamin C helps maintain your immune system, promotes healing and prevents cell damage. It’s found in many fruits and vegetables, so make sure you eat at least 2 portions of fruit and vegetables every day to meet your vitamin C requirements.
Problems seeing in the dark
Do carrots really help us see in the dark? Carrots are high in vitamin A which produces the pigment found in the retina of the eye that helps you to see in the dark. If you’re not getting enough vitamin A, you may find it harder to see in low light.
You can get vitamin A from dark leafy greens and yellow-orange coloured vegetables.
Constipation can be caused by a lack of fibre in the diet. Most people need at least 18g of fibre a day, but studies show that the average person in the UK only eats about 12g a day.
Fibre helps your bowels to work properly. If you’re feeling constipated, you may need to add more high-fibre fruit and vegetables into your diet, such as:
- Swiss chard
If your diet lacks essential vitamins and minerals it can affect your mood. Studies show that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the better you feel physically and mentally.
If you feel low, adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet may help, but always see a doctor. They may be able to determine the cause of your symptoms and advise you on how to manage or improve your mood.
How to eat more fruit and vegetables
There are plenty of easy ways to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into your diet. You can replace snack bars with a piece of seasonal fruit, add an extra portion of vegetables to your dinner or add some fruit to your breakfast.
A 150ml glass of fruit juice also counts towards your 5 a day, but remember that fruit juice only counts as 1 portion of fruit even if you have several glasses. This is because fruit juice is higher in sugar and lower in fibre than a piece of fruit, so it doesn’t offer the range of benefits that a piece of fruit does.