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Should I choose between fruit and veg?

photo fo vegetables and fruit

There’s so much written about fruits and vegetables and how much we should be eating.  The advice is generally to ‘eat as much as you can’, but at least five portions daily. However, there’s also confusion around balancing intake of fruits and vegetables and which is best? Plus, there’s the sugar conundrum which can’t be ignored.

Fruit and veg – daily intake?

The ‘five-a-day’ message has been clearly communicated over the years.  It’s the number of portions of fruits and vegetables that we should aim to be eating every day!  However, nutritionists will always recommend this to be the minimum amount, hence juicing is a great way of increasing intake (more of which later!)  So, firstly, how much is a portion?  Well, clearly this varies from individual fruit or vegetable, but as an example, one portion is:-

  • Two small fruits such as satsumas
  • One large tomato
  • ½ cup strawberries
  • Half a grapefruit
  • Two broccoli spears
  • One apple or pear
  • Three heaped tablespoons cooked carrots

Clearly, it’s not an exact science but at least this gives a guide.  And of course, we’re talking about over a period of a day, not all at one mealtime or snack!

Which is best – fruit or veg?

Not an easy answer!  The bare facts are that fruits and vegetables actually carry similar nutrient profiles, it’s just that the concentrations are higher in vegetables than fruit.  For example, spinach tops the chart for calcium content, sweet potatoes come out in first place for beta-carotene and yellow peppers win hands-down for vitamin C.   Spinach is also a winner when it comes to iron.  However, whilst individual nutrient levels are higher overall in vegetables rather than fruit, so many of all their amazing health benefits are bound up within their beautiful colours.  It’s the colourful pigments in both fruits and vegetables that contain numerous health benefits, including anthocyanins, and other wonderful health-giving antioxidants.  These fantastic compounds help protect the body from the ageing process as well as serious chronic diseases.

So, sometimes, it’s easier to look at the colour variety on your plate; if you’ve ‘eaten a rainbow’ over the course of the day, every day, you’ll certainly be achieving your minimum ‘five-a-day’ and maybe even more than that!

And when it comes to the all-important fibre, avocadoes (which are technically a fruit) come out high, although dried apricots win the day!  Fibre is essential for keeping the bowels moving, and releasing toxic waste from the body, but both fruits and vegetables contain good amounts.  

What about the sugar?

When it comes to sugar content, then yes, of course, overall, fruit contains more sugar than vegetables.  Indeed, the highest sugar content is actually found in dried raisins and apricots.  And of course, there is no such thing as ‘healthy’ sugar!  Fruit contains fructose; however, the main difference between fructose and other sugars such as sucrose, is that fructose has to be processed by the liver which means it doesn’t have such a negative effect on blood sugar levels.  Imbalanced blood sugar levels are one of the biggest barriers to effective weight management.

Fruits such as strawberries, are lower in fructose and have a low glycaemic index; that means that you can actually eat a punnet of strawberries before the sugar content would be anywhere near that of a banana!  The relevance being that sugar content varies considerably from fruit to fruit; always remember that dried fruits will have more sugar than any other fresh fruit.

What’s the conclusion?

It’s clear from the above that vegetables win on all counts.  However, fruits certainly deliver some wonderful health benefits.  The advice is to try to eat more vegetables than fruit where possible but

we should certainly not discourage our children from eating fruit if they won’t eat vegetables.

However, we know from National Diet and Nutrition Surveys that, as a nation, we are still falling short on the minimum ‘five-a-day’ so maybe we need easier ways of getting more into the daily diet.  Juicing mainly vegetables but adding some low glycaemic fruits such as apples or pears is an excellent way of rapidly increasing intake: think apple, carrot, beetroot and ginger and you’ve got an amazingly healthy and colourful juice that really packs a punch!

And the most important point to remember is to enjoy the wealth of colours that nature offers every day!