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"Five a Day" - Still Flawed 10 Years Later

The "5 a Day" campaign was launched in December 2002.  10 years later it still has issues.

Yes, fruits and vegetables are good for you.  Yes, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants (far less so with fruits).  Yes they provide fibre. This is all very good news, and a variety of types and colours should be regularly included in your diet.  But not necessarily the hallowed "5 a Day" and here's why.


Lack of macronutrient balance

Once upon a time it was "meat and two veg", and actually nutritionally, this is a far more balanced concept.  (Please note we totally respect, understand and support the choice to be vegetarian or vegan).

The massive emphasis on 5 a day, along with the nutritional dogma surrounding meat, dairy and saturated fats, has created considerable imbalance in macronutrient consumption.  Carbohydrates are given precedence by the authorities (have you seen the Government "Eat Well Plate" - refined carbs are given huge emphasis!) and protein and fats have fallen out of favour; this is totally flawed. 

We need fats and protein for fat soluble vitamins and omega oils especially, but also many other key nutrients.  For vegetarians it is vital to get enough protein and fats (nuts and coconut oil being two excellent and tasty sources).

The natural carbohydrates found in veggies are MUCH better than refined carbs, and yes they are healthy and so good for you. But "5 a Day" does not represent perfect nutrition, far from it.


Natural Sugar is ... Sugar!

We are eating too much fruit, far too much in some cases.  It may not be refined and processed, but the glucose and fructose as found in fruit (and less so, but also in vegetables) is sugar however you look at it.

As an aside, refined fructose, in particular high fructose corn syrup that's packed in to processed foods should absolutely be avoided;  don't let anyone tell you that HFCS is natural, it is not.

Now fruit fructose comes with friends in nutritional terms, and there ARE health benefits in fruits, and please do enjoy them, but the key here is moderation.   It's far too easy to take the  5 a day idea, run with it, and end up eating fruit all day long - this is simply not good nutrition.  Even worse are fruit smoothies with an extremely high glycaemic load, especially for those with diabetes or weight issues.  Likewise, dried fruits are natural, but they pack a very sugary punch!

When it comes to fruit, eating  traditionally is the best advice - small amounts of in season fruit.  It's true we all love the exotic fruits available these days, and as treats on occasion, absolutely enjoy them.  We recommend you add some fresh cream too - the cream is packed with vitamins A and D and is a wonderfully good for you food! 

For most people, a small piece of fruit daily, or every other day is a fairly good guideline.  Two a day would be the absolute maximum! And for those with weight issues or diabetes, fruit should probably be kept to just once or twice a week.    Fruit doesn't easily trigger satiety mechanisms, so it's all too easy to eat lots of it and not feel full and this can become habitual. If you want to slim keep the fruit to a common sense level. Also see our Smoothie article.


Cover Up?

Studies have shown that the nutrient content is food has depleted massively in the past 50 years.  Please see The Sorry State of Soil for more on this.   Now of course the Government are aware of these figures, is there an argument that the push for "5 a Day" is a great opportunity to avoid discussing real issues such as the poorer quality of modern food?   And that perhaps there is a view in some quarters that quantity might in some way make up for quality?  A small point that makes interesting food for thought anyway!


A Quick Note on Teeth

Dentists are seeing far too many tooth cavities in youngsters because parents are going overboard with fruit, and especially juices believing it to be healthy in any amount.   Smoothies are no better than coca cola when it comes to the sugar content.  Surveys have shown that in the summer, a third of children are drinking as much as eight glasses of juice a day.

For the young ones, fruit juice which is very concentrated in the sugars should absolutely be kept to occasional treats only, if at all.  Milk and water should be given preference.  And if giving kids juice, some water afterwards can make all the difference in terms of protecting the teeth, and consider getting them to use a straw.  Dentists also recommend a piece of cheese alongside fruit juice for further protection. 

Dental issues are the most common reason for children under 12 requiring a general anaesthetic, so this is a very important issue. Setting children up with good dental habits is something that will pay dividends their entire life.

"Diet" juices and drinks are a disaster nutritionally containing artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and should be avoided especially by children.


Potential Risks of a High Fructose

Studies point to excessive fructose over time having the ability to...

  • Lead to excess abdominal fat
  • Cause copper deficiencies
  • Raise triglycerides
  • Compromise digestive flora
  • Lead to candida overgrowth
  • Cause insulin / leptin resistance
  • Cause fatty liver deposits


Now these issues would be at the extreme end of course, but you can see what we mean when we say that the over reliance on fruit especially for nutritional purposes has flaws.


Salicylates Allergies

A quick note on this.  These are naturally occurring chemicals found in fruits and to a lesser extent vegetables, and also some nuts and seeds.  Certain individuals are sensitive to them and can even experience allergic reactions.   Such individuals would also typically have issues with aspirin and NSAIDs. Salicylates can often have a cumulative effect, meaning the allergic response builds up over time.  So an over reliance on "5 a day" may be especially problematic for those with an issue. A diet very high in fruit and veg can look very healthy, but if there is a salicylate issue, it can for some actually be problematic;  gluten is often blamed.   Those with asthma and irritable bowel are more likely to have this problem.  A food diary is a good way to identify this and there is lots of information on the web, or your local nutritionist will be able to help you.  The highest salicylates are found in green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, courgettes, raisins, prunes, strawberries, raspberries, apricots, cranberries and dates.  All dried fruits are especially high in Salicylates.    The highest amounts are found close to the peel, so peeling can help those with sensitivities.


Far Too Simplistic

"5 a day" has become a totally clichéd phrase, and is indicative of the quick fix approach to some really serious issues in society.  Malnutrition costs the NHS £13 billion a year.  The coalition Government wants the NHS to save £20 billion by 2014.  Surely this is the best place to start? 

5 a day makes everyone feel they are doing something, from Government to business and everything in-between.  But it's not that simple.  We need to address much bigger issues such as processed foods, the control big food companies have, toxins in the food chain, clean water supply, pesticide and chemical exposure, getting cooking back in schools, empowering young people to actively want to be healthy, supporting British farming - the list goes on and on. 

What about "Eat Real Food Every Day"? Something along these lines might deliver a better message with for more scope to educate and support within each layer of that model.   It would certainly require some adapting of the Government "Eat Well Plate" which is packed with processed and refined foods!  And therein is one of the biggest issues, the food companies have their hands in Government pockets, or is it the other way round, we're not sure? Either way, when Kellogg's and Nestle and others are invited to advise on food policy as they have been, we can be sure the outcome will be a disaster nutritionally.  This leads us on to our next point...


"5 a Day" - Hijacked by Big Food

Processed food is one of the very biggest health issues of our times.  The handful of companies that dominate this arena have very big marketing budgets, managed by highly paid clever executives manipulating human nature in the name of profit.  Everything they do is built around convenience not health.  These foods are typically packed with unhealthy ingredients, yet are widely being sold on the back of the 5 a day mantra. How can it be right that processed foods are made to appear to be something they are not by using the "official" stamp of 5 a day.  Isn't it obvious that this concept had fresh food at the heart of it?   One portion of veg does not make trans fats, and sugar, and refined carbs, and toxic man made additives OK! 



As a nation, how many people are finding it hard to eat that magical "5 a day".  Actually, it's quite difficult to do!  Feeling like a food failure is not exactly a great start to changing an individual's relationship with food, and eating, and health and lifestyle.  Could it possible that 5 a day has caused so much disillusionment it encourages people to eat badly? More food for thought perhaps!  Further, there are those who argue Government shouldn't interfere and lecture on these points, and perhaps there is some truth in that, and until we have a better relationship between "us and them" this is always going to be a big mountain to climb. But that's getting into a discussion that is much broader than this article is meant to be.


Not Good for British Farming or the Environment

Getting away from the nutritional aspects; we think this is quite an important issue.  The demand for a huge variety of exotic fruits all year round means we rely on imports from sunnier climes.  Eating seasonally would support British farming and also has environmental benefits, food miles are getting out of hand.  The flip side of that is of course we want to support developing countries, but there must surely be a balance somewhere?



So all in all, 5 a day is fundamentally flawed.  It's interesting to note there is no consensus around the world, the catchy catchphrases vary in number by country - it's a staggering 9 a day in America!  And many consumers don't even understand what it means, surveys show the confusion varies from thinking a glass of wine counts, to thinking it's about having 5 meals a day. 

There are clear and documented benefits of course, but there has to be an understanding that 5 a day is not comprehensive, nor perfect nutritional theory.    We think it's time for a rethink and back to the drawing board on this phrase. But the authorities have probably waved this flag for too long to change it now. 

We must emphasise again that vegetables should absolutely and definitely be enjoyed regularly, the benefits are substantial.  And the darker veggies like kale and spinach for example are nutritional powerhouses.  If you go a step further and ferment your vegetables, then the nutrition is even more impressive!

But just as important is good quality meat and dairy, preferably organic.  Also fish and seafood is incredibly nutrient dense.  Include nuts and seeds, and good healthy fats like butter and coconut oil. Liberal herbs and spices and full spectrum unprocessed Celtic Salt.   Fruit should be enjoyed occasionally.  

The single most important thing for your health is avoiding processed food as much as possible.  Secondly, look for balance in all of the food groups.

Look out for the "Eat Naturally" sheet sent free with all orders for more on eating well for good health and vitality.  And as ever, please do get in touch.


Nutrition and Physical Degeneration - Weston A Price DDS

The Fourfold Path to Healing by Dr Thomas Cowan

The Obesity Epidemic Zoe Harcombe

Malnutrition in the Community and Hospital Setting YouGuv report

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Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome Sharon S Elliott, Nancy L Keim, Judith S Stern, Karen Teff, and Peter J Havel Key TJ and others

Mortality in British vegetarians; review and preliminary results from EPIC-Oxford. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):533S-538S

High fructose feeding induces copper deficiency in Sprague-Dawley rats: a novel mechanism for obesity related fatty liver.

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Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. Stanhope, K.L., Schwarz, J.M., Keim, N.L., et al. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2009 May;119(5):1322-34.

Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. Teff, K.L., Elliott, S.S., Tschop, M., et al. Monell Chemical Senses Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2004 Jun;89(6):2963-72.

Association of fiber intake and fruit/vegetable consumption with weight gain in a Mediterranean population. Bes-Rastrollo, M., Martinez-Gonzalex, M.A., Sanchez-Villegas, A., et al. Nutrition. 2006;22(5):504-11

Swain AR, Dutton SP, Truswell AS. Salicylates in foods. J Am Diet Assoc 1985;85(8):950-60.

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