Global Health

3 reasons to eat more fruit and vegetables

two bowls of oatmeal with fruit.

Bowl of oatmeal. Coffee. Sun peeking over Grandeur Peak. If only every morning was this morning. Image: Brooke Lark/Unsplash

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Only one in 10 people in the EU are getting their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • But eating more healthy foods can reduce the risk of non-communicable disease.
  • Plant-based nutrition can also help the environment and could be cheaper.

After the calorie overload of the holiday season, January is the time when many – particularly in the Western world – rethink diets.

Since 2014, UK not-for-profit Veganuary has been encouraging people to switch to a vegan diet for the month – cutting out meat, dairy products and eggs to improve personal and planetary health.

Whether vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, there’s one thing you can start doing to improve your health now – eating more fruit and vegetables

It’s nothing new – the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization have been recommending five portions a day for 20 years to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.

But people in many European countries are still not eating enough, with just one in 10 getting their five-a-day and more than half eating only between one and four portions.

Daily consumption of fruit & vegetables in Europe, 2019
A third of Europeans say they eat no fruit or vegetables. Image: Eurostat

Perhaps most alarming is that in 2019, a third of people in the EU said they weren’t eating any fruit and vegetables at all, according to Eurostat.

Some countries had a much higher intake of fruit and vegetables than others, with around a third of people in Ireland and the Netherlands getting their five-a-day.

Daily consumption of 5 portions or more of fruit and vegetables, 2019
How fruit and veg consumption varies across Europe. Image: Eurostat

There’s also a gender split among fruit and veg consumers, with women on average having a higher daily intake – 58% of women reported eating one to four portions, compared with 51% of men.

Why should we eat more fruit and vegetables?

1. Better health outcomes

Besides reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases, eating your five-a-day can help to maintain a healthy body weight and balance energy, according to WHO Europe. Fruit and veg are a source of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as providing dietary fibre, which keeps your digestive system healthy.

2. Better for the planet

What eating for the planet and your own health should look like.
A diet that is better for the planet. Image: EAT-Lancet

The “planetary health diet” was designed by 37 experts as part of the EAT-Lancet Commission to answer the question of how we’re going to feed a projected global population of 10 billion by 2050 without destroying the planet. While the diet is flexible, it advocates that half of meals be made up of fruit and veg, while the other half is mainly whole grains, plant proteins such as beans and nuts, modest amounts of meat and dairy and some starchy vegetables such as potatoes, which don’t count as one of your five-a-day. The EAT-Lancet report found that moving to a healthy diet could prevent around 11 million deaths a year, as well as reduce the environmental impacts from food production.

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3. Could save money

At a time when steepening inflation is making food more expensive in some countries, eating more fruit and vegetables could be a way to cut the cost of your shopping, according to new research. Marco Springmann and his team at the University of Oxford found that opting for a healthier and more sustainable diet could take a third off food bills in high-income countries, including the US and parts of Europe.

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Related topics:
Global HealthAgriculture, Food and Beverage
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