5-a-day was a marketing gimmick... seven-a-day could make you obese ; Nutritionist's controversial view on great food debate [Mirror (UK)]
(Mirror (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) When I woke up yesterday to headlines that we should be eating seven portions of fruit and veg a day rather than five, I thought I'd spotted the April Fool article.
After all, even five-a-day is a fairy story. It was invented by the American National Cancer Institute and a bunch of Californian fruit and veg companies in 1991 - firms which stood to profit from any increase in consumption of their products.
But this myth has become the key "nutritional" message across 25 countries and three continents. Although, as often happens with things not based on fact, it has gone off the rails and become four- a-day in Ireland, six-a-day in Denmark and seven-a-day in Australia.
The five-a-day message was adopted by our Department of Health in 2003, 12 years after those fruit and veg companies came up with the number. They're now trying to convince us that it's evidence-based. Dear Government: Evidence needs to come before the slogan, not afterwards!
Five-a-day was supposed to be about cancer. The American National Cancer Institute has trademarked the term. There was no evidence at the time that any number a day would help cancer and there has been none since.
In April 2010 a major study was published after following 500,000 people for eight years in 23 European locations. It found no difference in cancer risk between the group with the lowest intake of fruits and veg (zero to 226 grams a day) and the group with the highest intake (more than 647 grams).
If you're a good citizen and eat five portions of fruit a day you could consume 74 grams of sugar. That's 18.5 teaspoons. If you're worthy of a knighthood and eat five portions of just vegetables that's 22 grams of sugar - 5.5 teaspoons. Carrots come in cakes for good reason!
The field of obesity where I work leaves me horrified when I find well-intentioned parents trying to get five fruit a day into their children ( fruit being an easier sell than veg).
This makes the obesity epidemic worse. Innocent smoothies count as two of your little darling's five-a-day but come with eight teaspoons of sugar. McDonald's (who were at that 1991 California meeting, by the way) won the right to put the five-a-day label on Fruitizz. It contains six teaspoons of sugar. If Bear Yo-Yo sweets are calling out to your children, you see the five-a-day claim and think it's OK. The product is 50% sugar.
Ask any biochemist. To the body, sugar is sugar. Your body doesn't know if the sucrose came from the white sugar bowl or a banana. The banana comes with some other things (less than you'd think) but the sugar is sugar. Don't take my word for it. As Dr Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of San Francisco says, you wouldn't dream of giving your child beer and maybe not cola, but fruit juice is metabolised by the body in the same way. Or, as science writer Gary Taubes, author of The Diet Delusion, says, "If you are overweight, fruit is not your friend." The study that came out yesterday claimed that higher intakes of fruit and veg are associated with lower death rates. But they didn't divide people evenly into groups. For the base group they took people who don't even have one portion a day (devils) and compared them with people who have seven-plus portions a day (angels).
The devils were four times more likely to smoke, four times more likely to be inactive, twice as likely to do manual work and a quarter as likely to have gone to university. So fruit and veg intake can tell you who's posh and healthy. It won't make the less fortunate live longer.
The fact is that there won't be evidence for five-a-day or seven- aday because fruit and vegetables are simply not the most nutritious foods available. We need a total of 13 vitamins, approximately 16 minerals, essential fats and complete proteins just to survive, let alone for optimal health.
Fruit and veg cannot compete with genuine superfoods when we look at nutrients.
If only public health officials had promoted the five most nutritious foods, we may not have epidemics of obesity and ill health.
Liver (I know, I don't like it either) is the single healthiest food on the planet. Add sardines, eggs or milk, enough sunflower seeds to get vitamin E and one green leafy vegetable (Popeye was right about his spinach) and there's your perfect five-a-day.
If you want seven, add steak ( for zinc) and mineral-rich cocoa powder (think dark chocolate) would both be contenders.
However, five-a-day was never about optimal health - it was a marketing slogan to increase the profits of fruit and veg companies.
Zoe Harcombe is the author of The Obesity Epidemic: What Caused It? How Can We Stop It?
The 5-a-day you SHOULD be eating
LIVER The single food richest in vitamins & minerals, from vitamin A to zinc. It has four times the vitamin C of an apple.
SARDINES Small tin delivers all our vitamin D requirement, plus key bone nutrients calcium and phosphorus.
SUNFLOWER SEEDS Difficult to get vitamin E without them.
EGGS Rich in all the B vitamins, vitamins A, D, E and K and rich in minerals - especially iron, selenium and zinc.
SPINACH Important for vitamin K. Dark greens are also good for vitamin C, iron and other minerals.
HOW MUCH SUGAR IN 'HEALTHY' FOOD?
Teaspoons per serving: Heinz Baked Beans ..... 2
Tesco Orange '3 of your 5 a day' juice, 330ml serving .............................. 8
Humzingers fruit sticks ................................. 1
HIPP organic just fruit puree ...................... 2.5
Hartley's strawberry jelly pot................................... 6
Baxter's Favourite Cream of Tomato Soup ....................... 2.5
Fruit Bowl School Bars......................... 2
Fruit Bowl Yoghurt Fruit Flakes ......................... 3
Fruit Factory Combos .... 3
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