This seven-a-day habit could save your life

There’s a big ad for iced donuts on the side of some city buses at the moment urging us to ‘Donut resist Donut King’. It’s cute and the play on words is clever –but it makes you wonder where are the eye catching ads persuading us to eat food that’s actually healthy?

 We don’t need more encouragement to eat cake. The latest snapshot of our diet from the Australian Health Survey shows that a third of our total kilojoules comes from foods like cake, biscuits, confectionery, alcohol and soft drink that we don’t need. Meanwhile our vegie intake is dismal. Only seven per cent of us reach the recommended five serves a day, although 54 per cent manage  the recommended two serves of fruit.   

 Yet just before our sad level of vegie consumption was revealed in the AHS report last month, British scientists confirmed why we shouldn’t skimp on our greens.  After analysing lifestyle data for more than 65,000 adults, they found that eating seven serves of vegetables and fruit daily was linked to a 42 per cent lower risk of death from all causes. Vegetables seemed to be more protective than fruit according to the study in the  Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and  each serve of vegies  conferred  a 12 to 15 per cent lower risk of death -  prompting the scientists to suggest that 10 serves of vegetables  and fruit  daily might do us even  more good.

 So why is it hard for Australians to eat five serves of vegetables a day?  

Smart ads for sugary foods on buses aren’t entirely to blame but they’re part of the bigger picture of junk food marketing that creates mixed messages about how to eat. The diet presented by food advertising - low in fruits and vegetables and high in fast food, chocolate and snack foods – distorts the perception of a healthy diet, argues Children’s Health or Corporate Wealth, a new report from the Cancer Council NSW calling for tighter regulations to  reduce children’s exposure to  unhealthy food marketing.  

 “If you compare foods recommended in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating with foods marketed on TV, there’s a mismatch   and this has an influence on people, especially children,” says Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager for the Cancer Council NSW.   

 Another hurdle is confusion over what a serve of vegies is, says Hughes. One cup of raw vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables is the definition but not everyone can picture how this looks on a plate.  Visual cues like six cherry tomatoes, four cooked broccoli flowerettes or a single bunch of bok choy can help -  examples like these are used in the Cancer Council’s Eat it to Beat It program that  encourages parents of primary-school children to eat more vegetables and fruit.   

 Half a cup isn’t much so it’s not hard to fit three or four serves of veg into a portion of stir fry or curry, especially if you shrink the meat content. More vegies and less meat  lowers the cost of a meal, says Hughes, and tackles another obstacle to five a day – the idea that vegetables are expensive. 

 How else can you squeeze in more veg? Have salad on the side at dinner – and make enough for lunch at work the next day. Add raw or roast vegetables to every sandwich or wrap.  A meatless meal once or twice a week combining legumes with other vegetables can deliver four or five vegie serves in one go; homemade vegetable soup can give three serves in a single bowl. Do a vegie swap –replace half the pasta in a dish with steamed cauliflower. Eat weekend breakfast eggs with spinach or mushrooms, spread avocado or vegetable based dips on bread and snack on raw vegetables with ricotta or hummus.  

 If we all ate like this how would Australia’s health change? 

 “When you increase the amount of vegetables in a meal you generally have  fewer kilojoules so  we’d lose weight and have less  type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer as a result, “ says Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle. “Although the evidence that vegetables protect against cancer has weakened a little in recent years the evidence linking obesity to higher rates of cancer has strengthened, as has the evidence that fibre may help protect against colon cancer. “

 We might also have fewer fussy eaters.

 “We know that repeated exposure to a wide range of vegetables increases the uptake of vegetables and that for supertasters, people who find the taste of some vegetables too bitter, repeated exposure helps them adjust to the taste,” she adds.


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