The 10-a-day guide to health
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Hardly a week passes without a new science-backed directive on the way we eat, usually overturning the directive we received the week before. We’ve heard everything from “eggs are bad for you” to “eat eggs all day every day”, from “fat is your enemy” to “no, it’s sugar that’s the devil”. One of the most consistent messages, though, has been the importance of eating more fruit and vegetables—five portions a day is generally thought to be about the right amount.
Recently, scientists in London set out to determine exactly how many fruits and vegetables need to be consumed for maximum protection against chronic diseases and early death. They analysed the data of 95 separate studies involving two million people and assessed 43,000 cases of heart disease, 47,000 cases of stroke, 81,000 cases of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), 112,000 cancer cases and 94,000 deaths. They studied the fruit and vegetable intake of each participant. They discovered that people who consumed up to 800g of fruit and vegetables a day had a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of CVD, and a 13% reduced risk of cancer.
The report concluded that if we all ate 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, around 7.8 million premature deaths could be prevented every year. The research found that the most beneficial were apples, pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and that cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli were best for reducing the risk of stroke, CVD, heart disease and premature death. The greatest reduction in the risk of cancer was associated with green and cruciferous vegetables. “It is clear from this work that a high intake of fruit and vegetables holds tremendous health benefits,” said Dagfinn Aune, lead author of the report, “and we should try to increase their intake in our diet.”
For many, a diet involving 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a huge leap. And after a few weeks of a very unscientific attempt to increase my own family’s intake, I can report that it is achievable but you have to be very organized. If you habitually eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a cheese sandwich for lunch, it’s going to be difficult to hit the target. I find that to give myself a head start, it’s important to supercharge my breakfast. So porridge with banana and blueberries with a glass of fresh juice is a good way to go (though you need to watch the amount of fruits because of the sugar content). A vegetable-packed omelette, poha, or mashed avocado on toast are also good choices. Make sure that snacks are healthy—apples, carrots, cucumber, etc. Remember that one portion of pulses a day can count towards your 10-a-day intake, as can one smoothie or glass of fresh juice. Lunch can be tricky, especially if you’re in a rush. I find my safest bet is if there is food left over from a healthy vegetable-laden dinner the night before. Soup is also a good option, especially if accompanied by a vegetable-stuffed paratha.
You might think that, once again, Western science is preaching to the converted in India, where several communities have traditionally eaten a vegetable-centred diet. But even here, we’re eating more meat and processed food. So, this new research is a useful reminder that the healthiest diet is one rich in fruit and vegetables.
Of course, at this time of the year, it’s hard to contemplate anything more strenuous than peeling a mango, so here are a couple of recipes that will keep your fruit and vegetable tally up and your temperature down.
Gazpacho, a traditional Spanish cold vegetable soup, is a lifesaver on hot summer days. The key is to use the ripest possible vegetables—usually tomatoes, capsicums and cucumber. The only other flavour should be that of garlic and the very best quality extra virgin olive oil you can lay your hands on. It is often served with garnishes like chopped olives, hard-boiled egg or tiny diced cucumber and pepper.
And as for this fruit-filled ice cream, it’s so easy, you could hardly even call it a recipe—in a matter of moments, your unpromising lumps of banana will turn into a luscious creamy ice cream without any added sugar.
About 100g of good-quality bread (like sourdough), with the crust removed and soaked in cold water for about 20 minutes
1kg very ripe tomatoes, quartered, and the little hard white bits at the stem end removed
1 red and 1 green capsicum, deseeded and chopped into small pieces
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Up to 150ml cold water
3 tbsp sherry vinegar (sherry vinegar is in keeping with the soup’s origins in Jerez in Spain but you could also use wine vinegar)
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
If the tomatoes aren’t super sweet, add a teaspoon of sugar
Blend the tomatoes, capsicums, cucumber and garlic until smooth. Add the bread and blitz again, adding some cold water if the mixture is too thick.
Pass the blended vegetables through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Stir in the vinegar, olive oil and season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate the soup for up to a day.
Serve chilled (but don’t add ice cubes, this will dilute the intense flavours) and with toppings of your choice—chopped hard-boiled egg, chopped olives or finely chopped cucumber and capsicum.
Easy banana and berry ice cream
The night before you want to make the ice cream, peel, slice and freeze some bananas. The next day, blend them in a food processor until creamy. Add a spoonful or so of almond milk or coconut cream and blend again. If you have frozen berries, add those too. Serve.
The Way We Eat Now is a column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.The writer tweets at @eatanddust