About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Five a Day - How?

Sorry, this is another post about diet - I'm a little obsessed at the moment. I'm still thinking about the government advice to get five portions of fruit and veg per day, with a portion being 80 g, or about 3 oz. Let's look at what I ate yesterday.

I started with my usual breakfast of muesli, made up of porridge oats, fruit and a few nuts. I'm not sure whether oats count - they are a grain, not a vegetable - but I have about 70 g, so that's almost a portion if they do count. I had a small handful of raspberries from the garden - about an ounce, so nowhere near a portion.

For lunch, I had a salad of peas fresh from the garden with some marsh samphire that I picked the other day, plus a few herbs with an oil and vinegar dressing. Because I'm keeping track of what I harvest from the garden, I weighed the peas: 2 oz, so rather less than a portion. I didn't weigh the samphire, but I doubt it was an ounce. Between them, barely one portion. I also had a little polenta, because I'm experimenting with alternatives to bread.

Dinner was a big heap of cheesy mashed potatoes with chard. I harvested 10 ½ oz potatoes, but they got mixed up with the ones in the cupboard so I'm not sure how many I actually ate. It could have been as much as 9 oz. Whether that counts as three portions or not is contentious. Officially, potatoes don't count, but I heard an interview with someone involved in issuing the advice, who said this was mainly because they were worried that people would just eat lots of chips and think that was healthy. It's sad that such a lack of common sense is assumed, and also sad that they were probably right. The chard was 2 ½ oz - barely a portion - and I had a glass of tomato juice, which also counts as one.

Counting strictly, I had barely one portion of veg at lunch and barely two at dinner, including the juice. That's somewhat short of three. If I include the potatoes and oats I get to seven, a target supported by recent research. The thing is, this is pretty much everything I ate yesterday, and it all looks healthy to me. The only other foods I had in any quantity were dairy: Cheese, probably about three ounces, and half a pint or so of milk. If I didn't count the potatoes, as advised, how would I get to my five portions?

I found the following on the NHS website:

Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is a quick way to get one portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine, and add a side salad to your lunch. Have a portion of vegetables with dinner, and snack on dried fruit in the evening to reach your five a day.
That suggestion adds two snacks to my usual meal plan, and both are fruit, so relatively high in sugar. That doesn't sound like an ideal adjustment to my diet.

I'm curious - do you monitor your fruit and veg intake, and if so do you get five a day? How?


  1. And now they are saying not 5 but 7 portions...how can it be possible?! We just do the best we can, try to avoid too much sugar and don't stress about it.

    1. That sounds like a very sensible approach - especially the not stressing about it.

      I looked up the 'not 5 but 7' research and their results actually said, 'the more the better'. That still doesn't tell us how those people ate so much fruit and veg, though!

  2. Well... I've been meaning to write a post on this topic since I am a bit of a fruit and veggie fanatic. I guess my short answer would be that in order to do this you need to flip your thinking around and instead of trying to figure out how to add in fruits and veggies, think of building your meals around them with small portions of grains, starches and proteins on the side.

    I don't measure things, but the USDA says that for greens, one serving is about a cup and for everything else it's about a half a cup. My box of spinach from the grocery store says that one serving is 2 cups. So for salad greens I consider one smooshed cup or 2 loose cups to be a serving.

    Sooo... here's what I ate yesterday:

    For breakfast I had a huge apple and a spinach & egg sandwich made with 2 eggs and a bit of melted cheese with about a cup of spinach (smooshed down) on a whole grain tortilla. Probably one serving of veggies and 2 servings of fruit (that apple was really enormous).

    For lunch I had a big salad which consisted of a large plate of greens (lettuce and spinach probably 4 cups un smooshed) topped with chopped cucumber, bell peppers, snap peas, tomatoes and about 2 ounces of cooked chicken with yogurt & Parmesan dressing. For dessert I had a big piece of watermelon. Probably 3 servings of veggies and one serving of fruit.

    For dinner I had a piece of grilled salmon with a small serving of rice (about a third of a cup) and about 6 ounces of sauteed veggies (grocery store frozen veggies - cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, lima beans & red peppers.) For dessert I had a large orange. Probably 2 servings of veggies and one serving of fruit.

    So that totals about 6 servings of veggies and 4 servings of fruit.

    With what you ate yesterday, you could easily flip it around a bit and instead of having a bowl of oats with a few berries on top, try a bowl of berries with a few oats on top. For lunch - well I don't know what samphire is, but I'm thinking you probably underestimated how much it was or else you would have been starving. And for dinner, instead of mashed potatoes with chard, try a big plate of chard with a few mashed potatoes on top.

    Perhaps I'll step up my efforts to write my post on this topic. Hope my comment falls into the "helpful suggestions" category rather than the "obnoxious know-it-all" one. After all, you DID ask! :-)

    1. You're right, I did ask, and it's very interesting to read about what you eat in a day.

      "... or else you would have been starving." Nope, I really do eat that little. I look at your list and I see three main meals in one day. Maybe not the breakfast, but that's still more of a meal than I'd have.

      Your suggestions for flipping things around are good ones, but they come up against cost and availability. OK, maybe at this time of year I could manage more berries, but most of the time, oats are a lot cheaper than berries. As for the chard, that's only just big enough to eat, so harvesting any more wouldn't have been good for the rest of the crop. Potatoes have been in season for a while, so I have plenty of those just now. Besides, potatoes are filling, and I was hungry!

      I have no idea how your serving sizes compare to mine. I just can't relate to these volume measures. That said, an 80g serving size across the board is nonsense. They apply the same weight to dried fruit as to fresh!

    2. Well, you're absolutely correct about cost and availability. I think it would be really hard to get enough if you were trying to grow them all yourself. And I do think there are issues figuring out what a "serving" is... especially when we're trying to translate across different measurement systems. I haven't any clue how much 80g is! I'm thinking... OK... that's about 1/3 what my bike tire weighs... how much is that in lettuce? Throw in the fact that some nutritional guidelines call a serving a cup of veggies while other call it half a cup and holy moly! Can they make this any more confusing?

      And you're totally right that I do eat 3 big meals per day. I used to eat less, before I was cycling so much - but apparently when one is pedaling an average of 125 miles per week, and keeping busy with gardening, walking and other stuff on "off" days, one needs more fuel in the tank! Maybe that's why the idea of fasting strikes me as completely impossible!

      Anyhow... I generally just try to make sure that at least half of what I eat is fruits and veggies and that way I can just scale it up or down depending on how many calories I need each day. I think when I do get around to writing my post on this topic I'll post pictures to make it clear how much we're talking about!

    3. Portions of veg as a fraction of a bike tyre - that made me laugh!

      After I wrote that last comment, the phrase, "Three square meals," came into my head. That suggests that three decent meals a day are what was traditionally thought necessary. I guess that's for people who are physically very active, like you. Also for people who are rich and indulgent, I suppose (I'm thinking of the time when that phrase probably originated, when the population could largely be divided into manual labourers and rich people. I'm also glossing over my history with a very broad brush.)

      Aiming for half of what you eat to be fruit and veggies sounds like a good rule of thumb. I'm sure I haven't been getting that much, but it really ought to be achievable (if possibly not affordable).

  3. Since I generally don't eat raw or dried fruit or drink fruit juice (it makes me heave something silly), I struggle to get five a day - but like you, I'm trying to get better.

    We eat salad with a lot of meals - but 80g is a huge mound of leaves. We have maybe half a portion of leaves, and at least another half portion of other stuff (peppers, onions, cucumber etc). I also try to have a big carrot (or equivalent) with my lunch every day, since that seems like a relatively easy way to eat a portion.

    We also eat quite a lot of pulses - you can apparently have a portion of pulses as one of your five a day, and dried, they're pretty frugal. I throw beans, lentils or chickpeas into just about everything I make to both pad it out and add a bit of fibre etc.

    We don't eat many potatoes - my chap isn't a fan - but I agree that it's odd/depressingly understandable that it's not counted as a vegetable, especially if eaten with the skin on/not in chip form. Sweet potatoes (which I know aren't really potatoes) are classed as a veg in the govt guidelines though - we have them instead of regular potatoes, but obviously they're not as easy to grow in this country. My other potato alternatives are cauliflower cheese, chickpea mash (pulses again!) or ratatouille (which I bulk cook & freeze when the garden is kicking out lots of courgettes; every year I hope to bulk cook more veggie side dishes so we can easily add a veggie side to a meal, rather than a starch, but every year I fail to do it with anything more than the ratatouille).

    We eat a lot of veg-heavy soup too - it's relatively easy to get a portion or more of misc veg/pulses in a big bowl of soup.

    I'd say most days, we get about three or four portions; some days it's six or seven; some naughty days, it's one or two. I couldn't get anywhere near enough if I was just/mostly feeding us from the garden though: even quantity aside, we have nowhere near enough variety to keep us interested.

    Diet aside, I hope you're well - it feels like ages since I've commented over here, though I do read all your posts :)

    1. Hi Louisa, good to hear from you. It's nice to know you haven't disappeared :) Also good to hear about your new allotment.

      When it comes to which veg count, I think common sense/intelligence/knowledge about nutrition should override government advice. Someone commenting on the NHS website observed how odd it is that sweetcorn, which is a grain, counts, but potatoes, which are definitely vegetables, do not. Mind you, I'm not convinced that botanical classification is the best guide to nutrition, either.

      Pulses are a good tip. Ian's not terribly keen on them, apart from baked beans, but I could probably work a few more in if I put my mind to it. As you say, they're good as frugal padding in things like meat stews. Cauliflower and aubergine are probably out of the question (see previous post) but courgettes have potential. Unfortunately the plants I have in my garden aren't doing very much yet, but maybe in a month's time I'll have a glut, and be looking up recipes for courgette cake!

      I know what you mean about variety from the garden. Right now I'm feeling spoilt because I have peas and pak choi and chard all available at once (if none in very great quantities).

  4. Picking up on your point that the recommendations would add fruit to your diet which is relative high in sugar, I don't think you need to worry about that. From what I've read (which is a fair bit), sugar that occurs naturally in fruit and veg is not harmful. It seems that the sugars to be avoided are "free"sugars - those that have been "freed" from the rest of the fruit/veg, such as granulated sugar, fructose, corn syrup etc. So, processed sugar. Sugars that come wrapped up in fruit and veg - even sugar cane - don't seem to affect the body adversely.
    Thus it seems to be a good idea to avoid fruit jams and juices, but to eat as many whole fruits as you like (and can afford).
    Sorry I can't provide any references, but I've been reading about nutritional matters for donkey's years and I don't remember where I read what any more.

    1. Good point well made. In general, I don't worry about sugar in fruit. Come to that, I don't worry much about sugar in cake or chocolate either, but I don't eat very much of those. I think the "Sugar is poison" message has gone way too far, and the concept of "Empty calories" annoys me a lot, too. I'd better stop now, before I launch into a lengthy tirade. Suffice to say, you are absolutely right to pick me up on my anti-sugar statement.

    2. I think you're right about it being a matter of degree. Even water is poisonous if you drink enough of it, as a friend of mine once did when told to stay well hydrated after a minor operation. Daft bloke ended up in A&E!
      I think the "sugar is poison" message is only being pushed to alert the people who start the day with cocopops and end it with jammy dodgers.

    3. ps - You have inspired to me try harder. Last night my dinner was a salad bowl of pasta, tomatoes, cucumber, chick peas, red and yellow pepper, celery, walnuts, black olives and carrot, topped with a toasted seed mixture. Talk about one extreme to the other!

    4. The people I hear "sugar is poison" from are those who eat their food raw, think that sea salt is healthier than processed, and that tap water is full of all kinds of nasty, dangerous chemicals. Your extremely healthy dinner would be deemed unhealthy because of the pasta, and possibly also the toasted seeds. Really. I have met these people.

      Your dinner sounds delicious, by the way. I hope you enjoyed it. It's nice to be an inspiration!

  5. The tomatoes and peppers are also from the nightshade family - another no-no. ;)
    I did enjoy it, thank you.

    1. Oh yes, I missed those 'deadly' nightshades!


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