Why 5 a day Doesn’t Cut the Mustard: Eat More Veg!

Even before I was a nutritionist – it was obvious you needed more than a measly 5 a day. There are several reasons for this. Studies show vegetables and fruit have the edge on grains for antioxidant content, detoxification compounds, immune supporting, and probable anti-cancer effects.

Getting your energy from vegetables generally means you get more nutrients for less total energy. Thereby helping with satiety and managing your energy management, and body composition requirements better.

5 a day was meant to be an achievable target. However, with 75% of the UK population failing to reach this maybe there’s a problem with aiming too low or a problem with most people’s eating habits, education, and food availability in the UK.

Aiming for 12 a day to reach 7-10 is vital for health and longevity, just more than 5 measly portions please!

Action: Give yourself a reasonable stretch target which is above 5 a day. Eating 7 portions or more gives a big statistical benefit for health.

Those of you who have been following what we do for a while will know we’ve always advocated 12 a day. 9 veggies, 3 fruits around activity. You’ll also have seen many Government recommendations remain at 5 a day or 400g of vegetables a portion of vegetables is 80g. Expert recommendations and studies support a change from 5 veggies to 7-10.

This is because at 7-10 portions consumed each day, we get additional benefits to blood pressure, immune system function, cholesterol, and blood vessel health.

In case you needed another excuse to pile on the broccoli – your risk of dying of anything at all is 42% less likely if you eat over 7+ servings of vegetables each day. They also protect your brain and memory as you age.

Out with the old, in with the veggies

Vegetables contain plenty of antioxidants and fibre, trace minerals like magnesium and potassium and help regulate blood pressure as a result. In addition to this they are net alkaline forming in the body and this effect may also be part of their ability to be wonderfully protective. Also, when you eat lots of vegetables tendency is there’s less room to eat poorer food choices.

This is an important area in nutrition, it’s a displacement factor. Simply put if you spend your time eating one source of nutrition it leaves less capacity for another source of nutrition. Prioritising and making the right foods immediately available then is clearly a keystone habit.

Only 28% of people achieve 5 a day or above. Eating loads of fruit and vegetables 7-10 portions a day - may give us longer lives, say researchers. The study, by Imperial College London, calculated such eating habits could prevent 7.8 million premature deaths each year.

More often than not consumption levels are lower than people are expecting. Why?

Well, eating a lot of vegetables (7-10 a day) means you can’t just yam down a big plateful at night. It might feel like a lot in 1 meal but overall, this amount doesn’t normally stack up to enough to protect the body – especially if you train a lot, are stressed, under slept, exposed to pollution, travel too much or drink alcohol to excess. Some people also still smoke which is an obvious oxidant, toxicant, and pollutant. In short living in a big city right now ticks most of those boxes.

The total amount of stress you are under can negatively affect the protective value you gain from consuming vegetables, more total and environmental stressors = you need more veggies.

Here are 12 beneficial ways I help clients increase their vegetable intake. See how many you can do.


  1. Eat some veggies at brekkie. Ditch the cereals, bring out the broccoli.
  2. Eat soup. Soups pack a big veggie hit – are easy and portable as snacks in a thermos.
  3. Anytime you cook, cook more veggies than you need and use them as snacks.
  4. Add 4-5 times more herbs, spices and garlic whenever you cook something.
  5. Replace all brown carbs with green, red, yellow, purple and colourful ones.
  6. If there’s a black or red variety of a starchy carb – choose that one, think Camargue red rice, and Thai black rice, red quinoa – in fact the darker the pigment generally the better choice, red onions, red cabbage etc.
  7. When you eat out order an extra side of veggies. When you eat curry get 2 protein dishes and 2 vegetable dishes no rice. E.g., 2 x Jalfrezi + 2 x veggie dish.
  8. It’s a cliché but eating the foods which cover all the colours of the rainbow is a great idea most days.
  9. When you do home baking, bake extra veggies and berries into things.
  10. When you take protein shakes always add veggies or berries and greens powder.
  11. A salad is not lettuce, cucumber, and tomato. Sure, you can have these in there, just make sure when you make a salad choose 10 ingredients minimum, radish, peppers, cabbage, chili, onion, capers, rocket, beetroot, olives, ginger, turmeric etc. etc.
  12. In the evening snack on some raw vegetables before dinner to take the edge off hunger.



Aiming to eat a plentiful colour plate of flavonoid rich vegetables, followed by some fruits goes a long way to ensuring you get a cross section of all the beneficial compounds. Blue- and purple-coloured vegetables and fruits are rich in anthocyanidins. These compounds have particular effects on cognitive function and protection. Think blueberries, blackberries, prunes, figs, raisins, and dark grapes for starters. Vegetable wise these would also include purple sprouting broccoli, kale, aubergine, purple carrots, and purple cauliflower (rarer) and beetroot. Red onions would also help with these special anthocyanidin rich compounds.

One of my favourites is black rice. Absolutely loaded with Anthos…. Boom!


There’s potentially another article in here (or more) on the values and benefits of eating the different pigments across the vegetable kingdom. Worth a read