The ‘5-a-day’ campaign is possibly one of the biggest public health messages, but it is flawed, and here are 5 reasons why.
1. Original studies showed 7-8 was best
The 5-a-day campaign was based on a review of a large number of studies which investigated how to reduce the risk of developing cancer and/ or cardiovascular disease. With all the studies combined, the results concluded that the optimal amount of fruit/ veg to be consuming was 7-8 portions, not 5. However, as the amount of fruit/veg being eaten by the public was so slow at the time, the World Health Organization (WHO) thought that recommending 7-8 portions was just too much for people to even try and achieve, and so lowered it to 5. Reducing the recommendations by about a third is a massive reduction. Imagine if you did this for all other things in life. Ate 1/3 less calories a day, or slept for 5 hours every night instead of 8. You would be a wreck!
Truth is, 5 portions has never been optimal.
The 5-a-day campaign is over-simplified, and assumes that 1 portion of a fruit or vegetable is nutritionally similar to another – this is plain wrong. For example (admittedly a rather extreme one), 100g of broccoli contains approximately 90mg vitamin C, whereas the 100g of apples contains only 5mg of vitamin C. The vitamin C content of broccoli is 18 times that of an apple, which is a massive nutritional difference.
3. Lifestyle/ exercise/ pollution
If you live and work in London, smoke 10 cigarettes a day and go to the pub twice a week you are going to need a hell of a lot more nutrients than someone who lives in the Scottish highlands, never smokes, and only drinks once a month. Exposure to pollutants from cities and dietary toxins dramatically increase your need for a whole host of micro-nutrients, which 5 portions of fruit/ veg simply cannot supply.
Exercising regularly also increases your need for a vast number of nutrients. Lifestyle simply isn’t taken into consideration with these recommendations.
As if to compound the problem of a lack of lifestyle considerations, there are genetic factors to consider too. Depending on your genetic make up, individuals requirements for a specific nutrient can vary by as much as 10 fold. This alone makes a 1-size-fits-all recommendation next to useless.
5. A portion is not always even healthy!
I was shocked to see that a glass of fruit juice counts as 1 of your 5-a-day! Sure, fruit juice might contain vitamins and minerals, but it is also unnaturally high in sugars and devoid of fibre/ pith which are extremely nutritious parts of a fruit. The idea that 250ml of orange juice is equal to an actual orange is absurd. Whats next? Tomato ketchup counting as 1 portion too just because it has a bit of tomato in it?