Title: Fruit And Vegetable Intake And A Healthy Diet.

Key words: antioxidant, coronary heart disease, post-menopausal, cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer

Date: Nov 1998

Category: 4. Food Data

Type: Article

Author: Dr van Rhijn



Fruit And Vegetable Intake And A Healthy Diet.

Implementing a Policy of Increasing Intake


There is growing evidence from the National Food Surveys (1986-1997) to suggest that the nation as a whole is taking their intake of fruit and vegetables more seriously as part of a healthy diet. Implementing this change in attitude is a difficult task, requiring the cooperation of numerous working groups.


Current recommendations to eat at least five portions of vegetables (excluding potatoes) and fruit a day (400g) stem largely from research on the role of antioxidant nutrients in preventing chronic diseases. There is good evidence that a diet rich in a range of fruit and vegetables lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, post-menopausal breast and endometrial cancers. Furthermore, there is moderate evidence for protection against cancers: colorectal, prostate, cervical, pancreatic and bladder, but not enough convincing evidence to support a beneficial effect in breast, lung, oesophageal, ovarian and testicular cancers. There is also a boosting effect on the immune system, subsequently protecting against numerous viral infections and protective against aged related eye diseases and diabetes.


The Nutritional Task Force’s (NTF’s) action plan "Eat well", aimed at the population as a whole, has set out an ambitious programme of action to help achieve the Health of the Nation targets on diets and nutrition, implemented by expert project teams in the community. It includes four constituencies: government, industry, health/medical organisations and consumer/public interest groups. The project involves a high profile campaign, covering advertising, education, catering guidelines (schools, hospitals and restaurants), product development and a handbook for NHS managers as well as educating health professionals. Progress continues to be monitored by the Department of Health (DH) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). The aim is to improve availability and also to change attitudes and awareness, especially in those target groups that need it most.


There are numerous barriers preventing people from reaching this ‘ five a day’ target. Problems range from availability (geographical and cost constraints), demographics (unemployment, single-person households, ageing, time constraints), to attitudes (habits, lack of appeal, inconvenience, not filling enough, ignorance).

This ambitious programme can only succeed with the cooperation of all the key players concerned with helping people improve their diet (food producers, retailers, caterers, health professionals, consumers etc), but least of all the government and the Common Agricultural Policy.


Research experience shows that interventions to achieve higher consumption of vegetable and fruit consumption can be successful and play an important part in prevention of the rising trend of diet-related chronic diseases. However, to be successful, it requires a sustained and coordinated effort with a clear, simple and consistent message, across all sectors.



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