Health: Eat ten a day? There is just no way

Jayne Dawson with fruit and vegetables at Morrisons in Kirkstall, Leeds. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Jayne Dawson with fruit and vegetables at Morrisons in Kirkstall, Leeds. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Five a day isn’t enough, according to the new health advice. We should aim for ten for true health and happiness. Jayne Dawson is persuaded to give it a go.

Do what? Eat ten portions of fruit and veg a day? And come to work as well? For a week?

I can’t see it working myself. That’s a mountain of fruit and veg, that’s a landslide, that’s like a country of fruit and veg.

It suggests a lot of chopping and peeling, and a lot of chewing. It suggests a lot of 
cash as well, for those of us without the time to hunt out bargains.

But this is what university experts say we need to do, and they should know because they have been doing their research for 12 years.

Those in the study who ate even seven portions of fruit and veg a day – already the recommended daily amount in several countries – were 42 per cent less likely to die of any cause at all.

So eat seven if you must, is the new advice, but eat ten a day for the full belt and braces approach to health.

I’m not that good on fruit and veg. To be honest, my go-to food is sugar in all its forms. 
But what the boss wants, the boss gets. I accept the challenge to peel, steam and boil for a week.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

I call in at the supermarket after work, to prepare for the days ahead. I buy grapes (pricey), baby spinach (posh) a bag of prepared swede and carrot (lazy) along with spring greens, mushrooms, tangerines, carrots and celery. After a bit, I feel like I am running out of things to buy – but I do another circuit and throw in avocado, a bag of salad leaves, Russet apples (my favourite, but getting very back-endish in April) cauliflower and some half price plums. It fills two carrier bags. The cashier refrains from comment.

At home, to limber up, I eat some sweets containing real fruit juice.

DAY ONE

I prepare by finding out what counts as a portion. This is not easy. Is it a handful? Is it 80 grams, is it a bag full? It seems to depend on the type of fruit or vegetable concerned, and on the website you are reading.

Still, no point getting obsessed with the detail - a freezer bag of chopped carrots to snack on during the day is clearly the answer. Indeed, I have risen from my bed half an hour early expressly for the purpose of preparing them. Peeling carrots in my nightie is now my future.

Then I add bits of everything else I can find, and the day passes in a blur of crunching.

Fruit and veg score: A solid eight.

DAY TWO

Nightie. Carrots. Peel.

Another Person has eaten all the grapes. I salvage 12, which is four short of a portion.

Did you know it takes three sticks of celery to constitute a portion? I know! I was shocked too. My snack sack for work – I couldn’t in all conscience call it a mere bag – is heavy, and it is heavier with fruit than veg which, according to the new rules, is the wrong way round.

I eat a scabby banana for breakfast and prepare to do battle. By the time I arrive at my son’s house that evening my digestion system is very much on my mind. I will say no more than that. For my final meal of the day, asparagus goes down, but mini corn on the cobs are a veg too many. They stay on my plate.

Fruit and veg score: Eight again.

DAY THREE

Nightie. Carrots Etc.

My mind is leaping ahead to the evening meal. What’s in the freezer? If desperate, I can break out the baked beans – they count as one but only one, a really big pile doesn’t count as two.

Another person has hoovered up the contents of the fruit bowl. For breakfast, I measure out a breakfast bowl of salad leaves because that’s a portion. I’m not kidding.

At work, I ask my colleague what it is like sitting next to someone crunching all day. “Irritating” she says. From now on, I try to suck celery. At least it gives my jaw a rest.

Fruit and veg score: A disappointing seven.

DAY FOUR

I am away for the weekend. On the way to my destination, I worry about portion sizes. I have revised my opinion of what counts as a portion. Last night, I weighed some celery and discovered two sticks weighed 80g. I fear I have been eating a WHOLE STICK too much. I think I have been overdoing the carrots too. This is like a reverse diet: the unnecessary hugeness of my portions is getting me down.

I home in on courgette soup for lunch, liquidised plant matter generally counts as one, I’m learning – though this tastes heavier on the Parmesan than the courgette. You and I both know that wine doesn’t count as a grape portion, so I won’t mention that. In the evening, I order some spinach with my meal, but worry that I don’t eat the required three tablespoons

Fruit and veg score: An appalling three (there was a banana in there somewhere)

DAY FIVE

Turns out keeping up the fruit and veg intake away from home is a big slog. This is another disaster day. By 3pm I have eaten some tiny bits of mushroom (in an omelette) and that’s it. That’s not even a half portion. I am panicking.

I see salvation in the form of an M&S. I buy an asparagus, apple and lemon drink, some dates and a salad with roast vegetables. Anything to get away from carrots and celery. I reckon that’s four, but with quite a lot of sugar involved and it’s not exactly cheap either.

Anyway, I am sick of shovelling down fibrous things. I buy a Twirl and a bag of Skittles and eat the lot. There. Take that, you ten-a-day people.

Fruit and veg score: A terrible four.

DAY SIX

Sorry everyone. I’m back on the horse, so to speak. I have done another few circuits of Morrisons fruit and veg aisle.

I make a vegetable juice with carrots, broccoli, apple and ginger – I believe it only counts as one because it is just the juice, without the fibre.

Then, I pack a lunchtime salad with three ingredients that count. It is too big for my lunchbox but I pack it down grimly. I add four pieces of fruit. Over the course of today, as well as the juice, I also have: banana, beetroot, mushrooms, leaves, avocado, sultanas, spinach, cauliflower. One more before bed and I will have hit the target! I eye an orange... I can’t do it. One more will kill me. I chalk up another fail. Then I recheck the vegetable juice guideline. My juice counts at two! Yes! I have made it.

Fruit and veg score: An outstanding ten.

DAY SEVEN

Many long days ago, a colleague volunteered the mind-blowing information that in Japan the recommended daily amount is 17. Maybe this explains Japan. Today, I decide to check this statistic. Their recommended amount is seven a day - and clearly my mind is wandering. Not all the stats are on my side though. I recheck the celery portion. It is three sticks after all, according to the NHS statistics. Celery is preying on my mind a lot. While I think about it, I eat some fruit – and quite a lot of early Easter egg.

On the way to the hairdressers, I grimly chomp through an apple. He tells me to make a Greek salad for tea, airily declaring that will be at least five portions, but I’m too exhausted to shop. At home, I eat peas and mushrooms. Nothing else, just peas and mushrooms.

Fruit and veg score: A lacklustre six.

AND FINALLY

Is it possible to eat ten portions of fruit and veg a day? Not for me, clearly. Someone, somewhere is probably managing it, but the challenge is a big one. It requires determination, planning, and cash. I spent at least £40 on fruit and veg and healthy snacks, mainly for me. A ten-a-day person, even a seven-a-day person, has to be prepared to spend a lot of time shopping, preparing and eating. I am not that person.

PS: In case you were wondering, I didn’t lose weight.

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