Stop confusing people about 5-a-day

By on 30/07/2014 in Blog

Eleanor McGeeBirmingham Public Health dietician Eleanor McGee fears conflicting media reports about fruit and veg consumption risk turning people off from healthy eating.

Another day, another headline advising people how many portions of fruit and vegetables they should eat to live a healthy life.

Back in April media reports told us that the advice had changed and suddenly the target was seven portions rather than five (some newspapers actually reported this as 10!).

Today we’re back to five, with yet more research concluding that eating more may have no added benefits.

Maybe we should split the difference and go fo six.

Or maybe we should stop confusing people with contradictory advice.

It’s important to stress that the NHS Choices advice never changed during this period.

The general principle is simple enough. People with diets high in fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer..

But people want clear consistent advice. They want to know where we stand and by continually moving the goalposts we risk confusing people and even worse, turning them off from the whole idea that adopting a healthy balanced diet is the way forward.

The facts are simple:

  • Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium.
  • They’re an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems.
  • A diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
  • They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables contribute to a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Many people still struggle to reach 5-a-day every day, and we need to show them simple ways to increase their intake of fruit and veg. After all, every additional portion represents a health gain.

All straightforward enough and we should encourage people who acknowledge these facts – instead I fear we’re confusing and possibly even frustrating them.

To be told that the 5-a-day you’ve religiously consumed is suddenly not enough can be demoralising. To then be told that actually 5-a-day is spot on just adds to the confusion.

I’m not saying there should be no more research but when the findings of research are made public, maybe more thought should be given to how that will play out in the media. Health journalists often do a fantastic job raising awareness but in this case they have a responsibility to point out that UK national guidance has not changed despite these studies.

After all, it’s hard to follow sensible advice if we feel that advice keeps changing.

So stop confusing people!

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