Fitting in those portions of fruit and vegetables might not be as tricky as you think.
Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fibre that may help prevent cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Making an effort to eat a range of colours increases variety – and don’t forget your greens. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and watercress, are good sources of iron, folic acid and nitrates.
Recent BHF-funded research found that nitrates present in greens can help widen blood vessels and thin the blood. This is one way of eating more fruit and veg help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Fruit and vegetables are the basis of many affordable, tasty meals and snacks. In reality, getting your 5-a-day is easy, as our tips show.
1. Love your lentils
Beans and lentils count towards your 5-a-day. They are good sources of carbohydrate and protein, but also contain essential vitamins and minerals. However, they only count as one portion, regardless of the amount or type you eat (a portion is 80g, or three heaped tablespoons of cooked beans).
Even if your meal contains both chickpeas and lentils, this only counts as one portion. Baked beans also count, so beans on toast or a jacket potato is a portion, but make sure you opt for reduced-sugar and reduced-salt versions.
2. Jazz up rice
Adding vegetables such as peas or sweetcorn to your rice is a great way to increase your vegetable intake. You can put frozen vegetables into the saucepan halfway through the rice’s cooking time or simply stir them through the rice for a couple of minutes after it has cooked.
You can also add tinned vegetables to couscous. Choose those tinned in water, without added salt or sugar.
3. Fruity breakfasts
It’s easy to get two portions of different fruits with your porridge or muesli. Fruit adds natural sweetness and is a great source of vitamin C and fibre. Add a combination of raisins, dried apricots, sliced banana, a handful of blueberries, strawberries or raspberries.
For a warming fruity porridge, stew apples and blackberries and add them to your porridge with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
4. Love your fruit bowl
Having a well-stocked fruit bowl adds colour to your home and may encourage you to snack on fruit rather than grabbing biscuits or cake. Fruit is naturally low in calories and also contains fibre, which helps you feel fuller for longer.
5. Healthier snacks
Swap your mid-morning biscuits for dried fruit. Raisins, sultanas, prunes and apricots are easy, cheap, portable snacks for people on the go. About a tablespoon counts as a portion.
There is a great variety available at most supermarkets, often including exotic fruits like dried pineapple and mango. Be careful to choose fruits without added sugar (unsweetened) by checking the ingredients list, and avoid those coated in chocolate, yoghurt or honey.
6. Vegetable crisps
Make your own vegetable crisps from beetroot, sweet potato and parsnip, without added fat or salt. Slice the vegetables thinly, place on a lined tray and place in the oven at 175°C/gas mark 4 for 20 minutes or until dry. Fruit takes longer to bake.
For cinnamon-spiced apple chips, sprinkle sliced apple with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter- teaspoon of nutmeg and bake on the lowest setting for about two hours.
7. Sandwich fillings
Making your own lunch to take into work or putting together your own sandwich at lunchtime allows you to pack in extra vegetables. Sliced cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce complement many sandwich fillings.
Try the wholemeal versions of pitta bread, wraps and bagels too, and try to sample new vegetables every week so you never get bored.
8. Pie toppings
Standard potatoes don’t count as one of your 5-a-day. As an alternative pie topping, or to combine with potato, use mashed swede, sweet potato, butternut squash or carrot. These vegetables mash very smoothly, which means you don’t need added butter.
9. In a stew
Traditionally seen as a winter dish, stew can be eaten all year round and is a fantastic way to pack in extra vegetables. Root vegetables (like carrots, butternut squash, parsnips and sweet potato) hold their shape well and add bulk.
A tin of tomatoes or some lentils introduces yet another portion. Experiment with summer flavours, such as fresh herbs like basil, or use seasonal vegetables.
While all the vegetable additions help you towards your 5-a-day, remember that each portion must be 80g, so a stew for four needs to contain 320g of fruit or veg to provide one portion per serving.
10. Tinned tomatoes
Salads aren’t just for summer; they’re a healthy year-round accompaniment to any dish
For meals like spaghetti bolognese, chilli, curry or pasta bakes, use tinned tomatoes (or tomato passata) instead of ready-made sauces. It will help you towards your 5-a-day and can also help reduce your salt and sugar intake.
If you want to make your tinned-tomato sauce creamier, add a little low-fat Greek yoghurt.
11. Toast toppings
Mashed avocado or banana make tasty toppings for a slice of toast. Try them as alternatives to your usual lunch or as a substantial snack.
Bananas are a great source of energy and nutrients, and avocadoes are rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Avocadoes also contain fibre and a range of essential vitamins.
12. Salad days
Salads aren’t just for summer; they’re a healthy year-round accompaniment to any dish. A hearty salad for cooler months can be made using vegetables such as carrot, butternut squash and sweet potato, roasted in a small amount of olive oil.
Pulses (such as tinned kidney beans, chickpeas or mixed beans) are great all year round, and asparagus is in season now.
13. A cracking omelette
An omelette is a great way to boost your vegetable count. Onion, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, sweetcorn, peas and spinach all work very well when added to the egg mixture. Or you could make a twist on a Spanish omelette, using sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
14. Vegetable soup
There are countless flavours of soup to try, and soups are very simple to make. Start by chopping up a variety of vegetables (onions, carrots, butternut squash, radish, swede, parsnips, sweet potato, mushrooms, sweetcorn and peppers all work well) and sautéing them with a little vegetable oil.
Then add homemade or low-salt stock and allow your vegetables to simmer until tender. Either leave soup chunky (like a stew) or blend it to a smooth texture.
15. Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are a good source of the antioxidant beta-carotene. To make sweet potato wedges, cut it into equal-sized chunks, brush with a little vegetable oil and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes. For extra flavour, add a sprinkling of paprika, cumin or chilli before baking.
16. Fruity desserts
Make a tasty, healthy dessert by teaming fresh or stewed fruit with some low-fat yoghurt. You can select fruit in season or freeze prepared fruit to save time when you next need them.
You could also try making your own crumbles using fresh or stewed fruit or frozen berries. For the topping, try adding some oats to your standard mix.
17. Spice it up
Instead of just adding meat, onion and peppers to your chilli or fajita mix (as suggested in many standard recipes), experiment with extra vegetables. Consider mushrooms, sweetcorn and broccoli, and don’t forget to add some tinned kidney beans, as these also count towards your 5-a-day.
You can even reduce the amount of meat you would usually use and add extra beans instead, as they are a great source of protein and are cheaper than meat.
18. Go beyond roast potatoes
Only 35% of people eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
When making your Sunday dinner, why not roast a selection of vegetables alongside your usual potatoes? Parsnips, butternut squash, swede, carrots, peppers and mushrooms are all delicious roasted. Be sparing when adding oil; simply brushing oil on vegetables with a pastry brush is enough.
Remember to cook your usual selection of steamed or lightly boiled vegetables along with this. A roast dinner is a great occasion to get in some extra greens too.
19. Simple stir fry
Pack out stir-fries with vegetables. Add chopped onion, garlic, peppers and mushrooms when browning your chicken or lean beef, and then broccoli, carrots, sweetcorn, peas, curly kale, spinach and beansprouts.
If you don’t want to prepare vegetables, you can add frozen mixed vegetables instead.
20. Healthy snacks
Planning your snacks will help you resist the temptation of fatty or sugary foods between meals. If you're going to work or just out and about for the day, prepare plastic boxes with carrot, pepper and cucumber sticks, reduced-fat hummus, unsalted nuts, sultanas and dried apple rings to keep you going. These healthy options all help you reach your 5-a-day.
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Source: British Heart Foundation