How to boost your fruit and veg intake

Most of us know we should be eating five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day – but how many of us actually achieve it?

Dr Katherine Livingstone, NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow with the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), says more work needs to be done to shift the perception that eating fruit and vegetables is hard.

Her latest publication, using data from the City of Greater Bendigo, found that only seven per cent of Bendigo residents are meeting the Australian Dietary Guidelines for fruit and veg consumption each day, with adults consuming an average of 1.5 serves of fruit and 2.7 serves of vegetables each day.

The data aligns with the Australian average where only 51 per cent of adults meet recommendations for fruit, eight per cent meet recommendations for vegetables and five per cent meet recommendations for both. Katherine says this has broader health implications.

“Making sure you eat enough fruit and vegetables can help prevent obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer,” she says. “Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is a national policy priority.”

Dr Katherine Livingstone, NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN

The most common reasons given for not eating enough fruit and vegetables were lack of time, the perception that guidelines were difficult to achieve, food and taste preferences, and the high cost and limited availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Work hours left residents feeling there was little time to prepare and cook vegetables at dinner time, and respondents said it was too hard to take vegetables to work for lunch,” says Katherine. 

But she adds that there are simple, practical strategies to make healthy eating the easy option in anyone’s breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack routine.

So how can you boost your fruit and vegetable intake? Here’s Katherine’s top tips: 

  1. Include vegetables at meals and snacks, not just the evening meal. For breakfast, try tomatoes or mushrooms and spinach on toast.
  2. Replace snacks high in added sugars and salt with fruits and vegetables. For example, prepare some chopped vegetables, such as carrot, capsicum, snow peas or beans, to snack on during the day.
  3. Get the family involved with shopping for and preparing fruit and vegetables. Growing your own herbs or vegetables in the garden or in pots on the balcony can be a fun way to get children interested in healthy eating.
  4. Where possible, spend some time planning meals and snacks in advance. Ensuring you have enough fruit and vegetable options to hand at home can help avoid the temptation of reaching for unhealthy options.
  5. To avoid food waste, leftover vegetables can be cooked up with eggs for breakfast or enjoying as a stir fry for lunch or dinner
  6. During the cold winter months, soups packed with vegetables are a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet.

Dr Katherine Livingstone is an NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow with the Deakin Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition.  A full version of findings from this study can be found here.

Click here for more information about Deakin IPAN’s research into physical activity and nutrition or follow us on Twitter @DeakinIPAN

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