So what counts as a portion?

Think you’re not getting enough greens? New Harvard study says think again.

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Like most people, I had assumed, broadly speaking, that the more vegetables you eat each day, the better. I snack on nuts and the occasional apple or pear, and thanks to the delicious meals my wife dreams up.اضافة اعلان

But I have always had a sneaking feeling I should be doing more, perhaps even aiming for double the amount. Well, reassuringly, a new report suggests I am doing fine and that trying to cram more fruit and vegetables into my diet probably wouldn’t boost my health.

Not so long ago, research suggested we should be going further, much further, and that if we really wanted to enjoy a long and healthy life, we should be increasing our fruit and vegetable intake.

So when I saw a major new study, published last week, suggesting that just five daily servings (three of vegetables and two of fruit) seems to be the optimal amount — and that having more adds little benefit — I was somewhat surprised.

The study was impressive in its scope: The researchers, from Harvard Medical School, analyzed dietary data from two 30-year studies of 100,000 adults, and pooled this with research on fruit and vegetable intake and death rates from 26 studies of two million people from 29 countries.

They found that, compared with people eating two portions of fruit and vegetable a day, those eating five had a 13 percent lower risk of premature death from all causes, including a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), a 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer, and a 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory diseases.

This is particularly interesting because we know that COVID-19 attacks the lungs. It reinforces the message that a healthy diet could offer a degree of protection if you do become infected with the virus.

Yet risk reduction "plateaued" at five daily portions, with no obvious benefit to be had from eating more. The scientists also noted that not all fruit and vegetables offer  the same health benefits.

Although I was surprised that going beyond five servings a day didn’t seem to give much added benefit, the researchers pointed out that other studies have found the same.

They suggested this might be because we have a limited ability to absorb and store vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals, (health-boosting compounds that tackle cell damage).

The new report does not fully agree with the findings from other studies, but it has reinforced the importance of eating a variety of different vegetables  and fruit every day.

7 strawberries: This supplies half your daily intake of vitamin C, for healthy skin and immune system, and a quarter of vitamin B levels, which helps make red blood cells. Anthocyanins (antioxidants) come from the red color.

1.5 tbsp tomato paste: If it’s 100 percent tomatoes with no added salt or sugar, tomato paste is a way to get lycopene, a compound with cancer-fighting benefits. It’s also a good source of potassium, for healthy blood pressure.

Two kiwi fruits: You will get two-thirds of your daily vitamin C needs, as well as potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure. Eat the skin for 50 per cent more fiber.

80g broccoli: These are a source of sulforaphane, a compound that can protect against cancer. One of the best vegetable sources of fiber, with 10 percent of your daily needs.

80g blueberries: These are a source of anthocyanins to keep blood vessels healthy. A review in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that they could help with memory.

80g kale: Kale was one of the leafy greens that brought the biggest longevity benefits, according to the new Harvard Medical Scool study. It is a rich source of lutein, which protects the eyes from age-related decline.

Half an onion: This amount of red or white onion (raw, or 3 tbsp cooked) provides sulphur-containing compounds, which play a role in protecting against cancer. It is also rich in anti-inflammatory quercetin.

7 cherry tomatoes: A portion provides around a fifth of your daily vitamin C intake and lots of lycopene, an antioxidant that’s been linked with lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

5cm cucumber: Cucumbers contain cucurbitacin compounds that are being investigated as anti-cancer agents. Eat the skin as it’s a source of vitamin K, needed for healthy blood clotting and strong bones. High water content also aids with hydration.

One 15cm carrot: There is no better plant source of vitamin A (for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and immunity). The beta carotene here also works as an antioxidant, protecting cells against inflammation.

One 80g satsuma: You will get half your daily needs of vitamin C in one large satsuma. Flavanones in the fruit are thought to have anti-cancer properties and to protect the heart from diseases.

These do count as servings but shouldn’t...

7 battered onion rings: These are typically 45 percent onion. This counts as a vegetable portion, but batter delivers 385 calories, 13 percent of your daily saturated fat limit and a quarter of your salt.

20 olives: Owing to their high salt content, olives shouldn’t count towards your five servings. Twenty olives contain more than 3g, or half your daily salt.