How much fruit and veg? The view from the Hamlet….

black and white calveThe Hamlet is not at the cutting edge of dietary fashion.

Hardly surprising. Most of the residents here spend their time chewing grass. One day, they’ll end up on a plate. And the humans? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason why Crow Pie has never caught on.

In the (relative) civilisation of the Village, things aren’t much better. There, defrosted petit pois at the Over Fifties Luncheon Club is considered extreme cuisine.

No, the Market Town is where it’s at. It’s the place you go for anything more cosmopolitan than skimmed milk powder or Lipton’s teabags.

This gives Market Town the faint air of a frontier town. The gun slingers may not be that obvious (Mostly, the twelve bores are kept hidden in the back of the Four Traks). There is no tumble weed blowing down the High Street, and a Gastro Pub has now replaced what you could once have loosely described as a saloon. But the place still  has a bit of an edge.

It’s also where you go to catch up on the gossip. Perhaps, in the Olde Worlde Days, locals and out-of-towners would have gathered around the water pump or market cross to swap news. (OH reliably informs me that the cross was, in fact, stolen sometime in the eighteenth century and upcycled into the forerunner of social housing).

Nowadays, most serious debate takes place, fueled by copious amounts of Builders’ Tea and All Day Breakfasts (served until 3pm) in The Greasy Spoon.

And yesterday there was one big talking point.

Fruit and vegetable intake, five a day may not be enough, declared The Guardian, while the DM and The Metro promised eating ten portions a day would cut your risk of dying by 42%.

The Market Town cognoscenti had their own take on the latest research findings from UCL too.

Theories ranged from a well-orchestrated April Fool’s Day joke to a conspiracy by market gardeners and Tesco’s. The consensus; it’s all a load of old hockum. A little bit of what you fancy does you good, one octarian explained.

fried breakfast

Best Breakfast in Town

True, The Spoon’s signature dish is a ten item deep-fried mega breakfast. It may, therefore, not be the best place to go for a balanced cross-section of opinion on healthy eating. However, it made me take a closer look at the claims.

On the face of it, they’re impressive. The UCL researchers looked at the eating habits of over 65,000 people over a 12 year period. In a nutshell, those people who eat the most fruit and vegetables significantly decrease their chances of dying, particularly through cancer or heart disease.

People who eat seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduce their risk of dying by 42% compared to people who have one or fewer portions a day. They are 6% less likely to die than people who eat only five portions a day. (And, for the avoidance of doubt, chips and wine don’t count).

Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, lead author of the research paper, declared that “the size of the effect is staggering.”

The research also suggests that the greatest benefit comes from vegetables, rather than fruit, and that canned and frozen fruit may actually increase the risk of dying by 17% per portion.

Although Dr Oyebode stresses the importance of making any adjustments you can to increase the amount of fruit and veg in your diet, the media has had a field day. The Dailies have battled to tell us how much we should eat. (Seven according to an earlier edition of The Mail, while The Telegraph ups the ante to a staggering ten). It’s as if the Government has somehow duped us into believing that five-a-day is enough.

Thankfully, the NHS has now issued some comprehensive guidance on what it all means.

For a start, don’t rush to throw out your tinned pears and easy chef chopped onions. Preserved and frozen fruit may not kill you after all.

The so-called link between their consumption and heart disease could be down to something as simple as life style or too much sugar. The survey didn’t distinguish between tinned and frozen food. And, guess what? Tinned fruit often comes in sugary syrups.

It also costs less. People struggling on a budget, or isolated by geography, disability or poverty, are more likely to eat proportionally more tinned fruit compared to fresh.

(Sure, you can keep costs down by eating seasonal produce or growing your own. But, let’s be honest. How viable is that in the middle of January, if you live in the Inner City, and you’re juggling shift work with looking after the kids?)

And it’s not just the urban poor who may struggle. If you live in the Sticks, chances are you’ll rely on your freezer and store cupboard for at least some of the week. Your local Costco or village store (if you still have one) won’t offer a daily supply of fresh passionfruit and yams. And, if you don’t have a car, or can’t afford to have Ocado do a weekly shop drop, you’re pretty much dead in the water.

The five-a-day mantra may not be a counsel of perfection. It reflects a belief that we’d find anything more too much. We’d switch off.

Judging by the reactions of The Greasy Spoon regulars, I’d say that’s a very real fear. Most of us have to live in the real world, not a soft-focus ad for Planet Organic.

Calls to make the five-a-day, seven-a-day, or even more, aren’t SMART. Like followers of the worst fad diets, we’d doom ourselves to failure from the start. For most of us, it’s not realistic, not achievable.

Sadly then, the presentation of the latest findings may do more harm than good. However, I take heart from the proprietor of The Greasy Spoon.

This morning, I spotted a new chalk board on the pavement. Home Cooked Specials, with roasties and 5 different vegetables, it promised.

And, if it’s anything like the Mega Breakfast, it’ll go down a treat.

It’s also my favourite post this week so  I am adding it to Honest Mum’s Brilliant Blog Posts Linky.

Brilliant blog posts on

About sarah

Old enough to know better, still young enough not to care. Property lawyer, sometime developer, writer and mother, coffee lover and cat-napper. I blog about life as a mum in North Wilts.
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10 Responses to How much fruit and veg? The view from the Hamlet….

  1. There’s always a new survey, new study, new recommendation – I struggle to keep up! I work on the basis that as long as I home make most of our food from ingredients, that kids snack on a ridiculous quantity of fruit all day, we’re doing OK. I refuse to get caught up obsessing and worrying about it. I do like that new chalkboard sign :)

    • sarah says:

      Totally agree. Think the key is balance and knowing what you eat….am shocked by the amount of butter and sugar in cake now that I am making them myself (and that’s without all the hidden nasties in highly processed foods…..guess I can’t help being slightly obsessive!).

  2. Mel says:

    I never really watch what we are eating and have certainly never checked that we were getting our five-a-day. Most of the time, we eat nice, fresh homemade food. We also enjoy our fry-ups and bacon sandwiches, but I am sure we are ok! Mel

  3. Mummy Says says:

    We shouldn’t jump up and down over one piece of research when so much is published every day and often it’s the ones written with a good executive summary that make the headlines. We try and eat as much fresh produce as we can and as little processed food as we can. That’s good enough for me! x

  4. Charly Dove says:

    What a great post. I remember hearing about this research and thinking they make it up as they go! That said there are certain foods (and chocolate!) I need to eat less of :)

  5. Pingback: Tuna, bean and corn salad |

  6. Honest Mum says:

    Brilliant post so fitting you linked up-pressure is ridiculous and everything in moderation (including moderation) as the Greek invented is key-yes fill your diet with plants ideally and lots of fruit and veg but fry up’s and treats every so often with plenty of exercise will keep you healthy. My Dad’s side of the family live crazily long, my Great Great Grandma was 110 (really), her daughter 92 and my Grandma was nearly 97-they had a diet mostly of pulses, fish, lean protein, fruit, veg and Greek desserts every so often. Following their lead. Thanks so much for this!

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