Why 5 pieces of fruit & veg anyway?

I am all for hammering the fake nutritionist tosh. “Doctor” Gillian McKeith “PhD (Intenet)” is an obvious charlatan. It’s very hard to see how anyone gave her any credence but – from Channel 4’s point of view – she rifled through human crap on tv, in the presence of its manufacturers even. This was always going to draw audiences. Actual nutrition qualifications would have just been icing on the poocake from the Channel 4 point of view.

I’m not a hundred per cent convinced by more official nutrition advice either. Everyone “knows” we are supposed to eat 5 pieces of fruit or vegetables a day. The government tell us so. There are posters in my doctor’s surgery. I am not disputing that we should eat fruit and vegetables (I’m a vegetarian. I would be going very hungry if I didn’t.)

I just want to know – Who said it? Where is the evidence? How big is a serving anyway?

Well, it turns out that original recommendation came from the World Health Organisation. The 5 a day is a UK version. The USA is more demanding. It wants you to eat 9.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid recommends three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits per day University of Iowa .

Are US fruit and veg weaker in their healing powers? Do American need higher standards of health than we do because of lacking an NHS?

Where does this advice come from? The UK Department of Health has some referenced links to evidence, on its site. Most of these actually turn out to be links to other DOH documents that repeat the same advice. There are however some links to research papers that report lower rates of heart disease and a couple of other reduced risks in those who eat more fruit and vegetables.

So far, fine. The researchers are scientists, so I am sure they will have adjusted the figures for other things that are correlated with living longer – apart from eating more fruit and veg – like being better off & more health conscious generally. I am perfectly capable of working out that fruit and veg are good for you, from any evidence they can produce from their research (plus a lifetime of imbibing this apparently “common sense” message.)

I would like someone to show me where the number 5 came from – was it just a think of number game? Is there any evidence?

I would also like someone to show me where the obscure rules came in – potatoes don’t count; juice only counts as one even if you drink litres of different kinds of juices. Where does the portion size of a serving come from? How can it apply to everyone from a 6’6″ tall heavy set man to a slight 5 year-old?

Unless someone shows there is a real scientific basis for this stuff, it strikes me as government promoted woo. It seems we won’t respond to messages like “It’s probably good for your health to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables.” We aren’t intelligent enough to understand that message. We need to be directed, like the good 1984-in-2007 public we are, in terms that are simple and direct and very prescriptive. It doesn’t matter if the instructions are assembled from guesswork and back of an envelope calculations. As long as we have some rules to follow. With numbers.

Rather like “Doctor” McKeith’s approach to nutrition, really. Oh hang on, she’s an obvious quack.

It seems a disturbingly short step from this nonsense to deciding that vitamins do cure AIDS. I think you’d probably find that most people in the world who have malaria don’t eat 5 to 9 portions of fruit and veg a day. (A lot of them probably are lucky to eat. )

I bet the research shows that most people in the world with HIV infections don’t have cars or travel on planes. I suggest that you drive 10 miles a day and fly 200 miles every 6 months, to lower your chances of catching it.

8 thoughts on “Why 5 pieces of fruit & veg anyway?

  1. Pingback: Medic Facility blog on health » Blog Archive » The BritMeds 2007 (9)

  2. It is woo I’m afraid.

    While I don’t dispute that its good to eat some veg and fruit,
    the figure 5 isn’t evidence based at all as I understand it.

    The reasoning was that ‘5’ is reasonably attainable by most of the population, though a higher figure would have been preferable.

    A proper trial i.e. long term (years) RCT is never going to happen, no money to be made from fruit and veg unlike with drugs!

    And even if a trial showed no mortality or even morbidity benefit to fruit and veg, you can bet your bottom dollar that the spin doctors would mangle the statistics to find something.

    More ‘woo’ = Saturated fat/red meat is bad, soy, vegetable oils, people who can’t metabolise carbohydrate (diabetics) should eat lots of the stuff!

  3. Oh, thank goodness. I’ve had arguments with people for a while now as I was sure the original advice was “5 veg AND 3 fruit a day” – it seems that was the advice being handed out in Australia a decade or so back. I thought I was going mad as everyone I spoke to here was adamant that it was “5 fruit OR veg in total per day”.

  4. Yes, I too have never found any peer-reviewed literature that suggests five f v are necessary. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence anywhere that eating fruit and veg is good for you in the first place. There are many people who eat very few plant products who live to a ripe (pardon the pun) old age. I know that sounds like the my granddad smoke 20 Rothman’s a day argument, but it’s not quite. Not eating f v at the levels you’re “supposed” to isn’t like pumping your lungs full of toxic fumes. It’s very, very hard to be deficient in any of the vitamins and pro-vitamins found in a “reasonable” diet, unless you deliberately avoid all f v

    All that said, I do try to eat at least one piece of fruit and tomatoes every day (blueberries on gym days too)


  5. Kayla – it wasn’t just a decade ago; those of us in Australia are still recommended to eat 2 fruit and 5 veg every day. That link is to a fairly high profile print, radio and television campaign

  6. Pingback: Why Dont You Blog? : Everything about diets seems to be bull

  7. These things are often determined by a committee of some sort. This is certainly true of the setting of RDAs for nutrients. These too are set lower in the UK than in the US. Apparently British folk need less nutrients?!?!?! Well, actually RDAs are generally set to give guidance in the prevention of serious deficiency diseases in the majority of a population, not for optimal health of all of the population. It seems the British tend to err on the side of “let’s make it low enough to cover as many people as possible” – the same with the veg serving size issue.

    BTW – as per who should have how many servings (as per age, sex etc) and what constitutes a serving size I found this web site to be more helpful than most:
    http://www.mypyramid.gov & http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/vegetables_amount.aspx#

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