NEW RESEARCH has suggested that five-a-day guideline for fruit and veg consumption should be lifted to seven-a-day. Footprint asked foodservice experts whether it's achievable and, if so, how.
Nicky Martin is head of nutrition at Compass Group UK & Ireland
Increasingly fruit and vegetable consumption is hugely important. Ideally we should aim to eat more than five portions a day, yet many of us still aren’t reaching that target. At Compass, fruit and vegetables are readily available in our restaurants. We also run promotions that include fruit and vegetables and we use the “Know Your Food” information boards displayed across our sites to highlight the five-a-day message.
For us, there is really one main challenge – customers. Ultimately it’s our customers who choose how much fruit and vegetables they buy; we want to provide the best selection possible but need to avoid being left with too much waste.
We work really hard on recipe development so that composite dishes such as lasagne contain as many vegetables as possible. People often forget that they don’t have to eat fruit and vegetables by themselves to consume the necessary portions; vegetables in dishes count and fruit with no added sugar in puddings can also make up your five-a-day.
Fruit and vegetables should be part of an enticing, seasonal and varied food offer and promotions are a great way to encourage people to consume more. We’ve also introduced hampers in some of our sites; these contain our customers’ five-a-day for a whole week and can be purchased at the start of the week, encouraging increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
Another example is within the messes, where ESS – our business dealing with defence, offshore, government and remote sites – provides the catering. By simply putting fruit in a more accessible position and making it look more visually appealing, we have seen a 50% increase in fruit purchased.
Caroline Fry is joint CEO of CH&Co
Serving 45,000 meals daily at companies including M&S and Virgin Atlantic, we’re well placed to facilitate healthier diets for our customers. Our nutrition platform, Wellbeingbeingwell, is an ideal vehicle to promote fruit and vegetable consumption.
Our Responsibility Deal pledge on fruit and veg consumption has also resulted in a number of changes to menus to make it easier for people to hit five-a-day. But with the best will in the world, health by stealth will only take you so far, and many people still struggle to reach the five-a-day target. There’s a long way to go, especially if the new goal is seven-a-day. Let’s hope the government’s nutrition advisers have some great ideas up their sleeves if they plan to make this a reality.
We’re lucky to have the nutritionist Amanda Ursell guiding every aspect of our approach. Amanda and our executive chef, Jim Wealands, deliver in-depth chef nutrition training with healthy eating as its top priority. Upgrading the fruit and veg content of dishes in place of less healthy elements is a key focus of this training, which has a health-by-stealth approach. We also educate customers with proof-based communications about five-a-day.
Our chefs focus on upweighting fruit and veg within recipes, constantly inventing new ways to squeeze these into a dish; for example creating cakes with fruit puree instead of butter and margarine, making them healthier and tastier. Our Veg Plot initiatives encourage and incentivise customers to consume three fruit and vegetable portions at work, to eat more vegetarian dishes and to choose fruit for snacking. We’ve also enlarged vegetable portions to 80g, qualifying each as a five-a-day item.
When we offer money off multiple five-a-day purchases, supported by five-a-day educational messaging, sales increase significantly. This suggests that both price and education are potential barriers to increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
Emma Gubisch is strategic insight manager at Leatherhead Foods
The University College London (UCL) study reported that the higher a person’s intake of fruit and vegetables, the of death from diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. People in the study who ate seven or more portions a day had a 33% lower risk of death from these diseases compared with people who ate less than one portion.
A recent poll we did with 1,185 UK consumers has shown how difficult it is for consumers to achieve the Department of Health’s recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, let alone the seven quoted in UCL’s study. Our poll shows that on average UK consumers report they eat 4.3 portions a day. When asked whether they would be able to eat seven a day, nearly half admitted it would be difficult.
A fifth of consumers said the price tag for fruit and vegetables prevented them from eating more, and more than one in 10 were put off by the amount of planning and preparation required to fit fresh fruit and vegetables into their diet. However, 50% said nothing prevented them from eating more fruit and vegetables, suggesting they believe their fruit and vegetable intake is adequate.
Many consumers believe they are actually eating enough fruit and vegetables and can’t imagine how they would incorporate more into their diet. The five-a-day message has been picked up by consumers as a benchmark – if they believe they are managing to eat roughly that, then they think they are doing a good job. Seven-a-day would require a shift in consumer mindset and behaviour.
Food and drink companies are in a strong position to help consumers incorporate more fruit and vegetables into their diet by revisiting recipes, improving the sensory profiles and nutritional properties of products and including sensory and health claims on packs.
Amanda Ursell is an independent nutrition consultant to CH&Co
The first thing to remember is that the advice from the Department of Health has always been that five-a-day is a minimum rather than a maximum when it comes to the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat. What the research from the University of London found was that people who ate seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day or more had significantly reduced rates of death from any cause, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, compared with those only managing one serving a day or less.
To put these findings into perspective, the study used dietary data collected over a 24-hour period, which may not be representative of a person’s usual diet, and doesn’t take into consideration that their dietary habits could change over time. We also need to remember that the people who ate more fruit and vegetables were typically older than those who ate less and that they were less likely to smoke, were more likely to be from a higher social class and have a better higher of standard education. They were also more likely to be female.
So given all these caveats, is it worth taking seriously?
On balance yes, but ultimately the aim is to encourage an increase from current consumption. Even though the UCL study didn’t show a benefit in eating frozen or canned fruit and vegetables, I’d certainly include them in your total. We know that antioxidant pigments like the orange beta- carotene and the red lycopene are absorbed better once vegetables such carrots and tomatoes are cooked, making canned versions, in my mind, good options.
We know that vitamin C levels in frozen peas are often higher than in fresh ones by the time they make it to your plate.
Fruits and vegetables are one of those rare things in the world of nutrition where we can, hand on heart, say: “Just eat more.”