Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Why do we need to eat 5 a day?!

I have just finished reading Marion’s Nestle’s ‘Food Politics’ where she highlights the difficulty in balancing public nutrition and health information against the food industry’s influence.  If like me, you have always wondered where the ‘5 a day’ message came from, you might be interested to know  that it came about from a positive collaboration between the American Cancer Institute and the industry founded ‘Produce for Better Health’ foundation in the late 1980s, based on research showing that a higher fruit and vegetable consumption was linked to overall better health and a lower cancer risk.  It was an ideal ‘win- win’ with the ideal of improving public health while helping the industry sell more food.  Did it work?  Yes, initially though problems with funding and grants later on resulted in less promotion and fewer people following the 5 a day guidelines.

As of the now, the 5 a day message is used in the US, UK, Germany, France, New Zealand and Australia.

It’s interesting that the fruit and vegetable message is based on research in the 1990s which found a strong association between increased fruit and vegetable consumption and reduced cancer risk.  This led to the World Health Organisation recommending that people tried to eat at least 5 portions (5 portions of 80g being 400g as a daily minimum) of fruit and vegetables daily to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases.  However, a recent study by Boffetta et al in 2010, found that there was only a very small link between fruit and vegetable consumption and decreased cancer risk  - 2.6% for men and 2.3% for women.  So does this mean we can go back to eating meat and potatoes and throw our children’s 5-a-day charts in the bin?!

I say no!  There are still so many reasons to eat fruit and vegetables - such as: a high vitamin and mineral content to help support the immune and other systems, a source of fibre to maintain a healthy gut, great taste, fantastic colours and low in calories.  Even if the link is shown to be weaker for cancer, there’s still evidence to show that a healthy balanced diet which includes fruit and vegetables is best for optimal health.   


Nestle M (2007)  Food Politics.  How the food industry influences nutrition and health UC Press
Boffetta et al (2010) Fruit and Vegetable intake and Overall cancer risk in the 
european Prospective investigation into cancer and Nutrition 
(ePic)  Journal of the National Cancer Institute 102 8 1-9

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