What does five a day look like?

Most of us have heard of the five a day message, but the majority of us don’t meet this advice and often it comes down to knowledge and perception of cost that stops us from hitting that benchmark.


The five a day message is based on advice from the World Health Organization which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruits and vegetables every day to reduce the risk of serious health problems like heart disease, stroke and cancer. 

Variety is key, as each type of fruit and vegetable contain a unique combination of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as antioxidants. Including lots of different fruit and vegetables is also beneficial for keeping your gut healthy.

Eating a least five a day will help increase fibre intake. Only 9% of adults currently achieve the 30g per day fibre recommendation (NDNS, 2020). A major benefit of fibre is helping relieve, or prevent, constipation, which one in seven adults are affected by.   

Research shows that for every portion of fruit and vegetables eaten, there is greater protection against heart disease and strokes (by up to 30%) and some cancers (by up to 20%).

What counts as five a day?

Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your five a day – including fresh, canned, frozen, dried or juiced fruit and vegetables. It should be noted that the following only counts once per day: a portion (150ml) of fruit juice, vegetable juice or a smoothie, a portion (80g) of pulses and beans, and a portion (30g) of dried fruit.  

Potatoes, yams, cassava and plantain are starchy carbohydrate foods, so they do not count towards your five a day, although sweet potatoes, parsnips and swedes do count.

Portion sizes

An easier way to think about general portion size for fruit is that it's roughly the amount you can hold in your hand. For example, an apple or a banana, two satsumas, a handful of berries, or one or two slices of mango or melon is a portion.

In terms of vegetables, three to four heaped tablespoons of cooked small or sliced vegetables such as peas or sweetcorn is a portion, as is a cereal bowl of salad leaves, or eight florets of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, or cauliflower. A portion of dried fruit is one heaped tablespoon and a portion of pulses is around three heaped tablespoons.  

Research shows that for every portion of fruit and vegetables eaten, there is greater protection against heart disease and strokes (by up to 30%) and some cancers (by up to 20%).

Fruit and vegetables are naturally low in calories and high in fibre, and so could help maintain a healthy weight.   

Achieving your five a day 

Only 33% of adults and 12% of 11-18-year-olds meet the five a day recommendation (NDNS, 2020).  One of the main barriers, for about a third of people who don’t meet the five a day target, is the perceived cost of fruit and vegetables. Opting for seasonal produce and frozen or canned fruit and vegetables can be value-for-money. Using beans or pulses to bulk out meat dishes is also a low-cost way to increase your five a day.  

For some people, vegetables are just not that exciting to eat and some may not know what to do with them (IGD, 2020).

Making use of herbs and spices to make vegetables more exciting for taste buds may encourage more frequent consumption.

For example, adding some mint to cooked peas, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to steamed vegetables or combining fruit and vegetables in a salad (e.g. some salad leaves, cucumber, peppers, sliced strawberries, grapes, edamame beans and a drizzle of lemon-based vinaigrette). 

Having fruit and vegetables as a grab-and-go snack can also provide a nudge to eat more. For example, pre-sliced vegetable sticks or chopped pineapple or melon in the fridge can make a quick snack. Having one or two portions at each meal and making fruit or vegetables the first choice for a snack should make it easier to meet the five a day minimum.  

It’s not always easy to hit five a day, our busy lifestyles can make convenience food a first choice, which often lacks the goodness of the five a day recommendation. Particularly for parents, it can be tough to think about yourself when you’re trying to ensure your kids eat five a day.

That’s when working with a nutrition professional can be really helpful. We can provide personalised support by understanding your current eating habits, lifestyle and any health concerns and goals, and working with you to make food choices that are easy, healthy and most importantly, right for you.

Feel free to reach out to me via my profile and I look forward to hearing from you.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH8
Written by Dr Laura Wyness, (PhD, MSc, BSc, RNutr)
Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH8

I'm a Registered Nutritionist specialising in nutrition research and communications. Working with a fellow Registered Nutritionist, I have written a book that addresses common questions asked by women about health and menopause. The book provides a summary of the science, practical diet and lifestyle tips and tailored recipes to support women.

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