Five-a-day 'too expensive' for many

Emma Woollacott

Hitting the government's 'five-a-day' target could mean spending more than half your food budget on fruit and vegetables.

New research from Kantar Worldwide puts the cost at around £1,500, out of a total average food spend of £2,900. As things stand, says the research firm, we're only averaging £690 each on fruit and veg, so that reaching the goal would cost an extra £810.

The researchers discovered that only one in ten of us are managing five portions a day, and an astonishing 53% of shopping baskets contain no fruit or vegetables at all. "I think it's got to the point where a lot of people just give up," Kantar director Giles Quick told The Grocer.

And our fruit and veg intake does appear to be getting worse: last autumn, Mintel figures indicated that a quarter of people were managing their five a day but that the number was in decline.

Cost is clearly a factor. Poor harvests worldwide in 2012 pushed the price of produce up during last year, by 10.5% for fruit and 5.4% for vegetables. And prices have risen again since, says Kantar. However, availability is also a factor, with many shoppers finding it difficult or expensive to reach shops where fresh fruit and veg can be bought.

The five-a-day scheme was launched in 2003, but our intake of fruit and vegetables has been falling since 2006. And those on the lowest incomes are eating the least: a 2012 report from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found that families on the lowest incomes were only buying 2.9 portions per person per day.

How much is enough?

According to NHS Choices, eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day can cut the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity. But according to researchers at University College London (UCL), the more we eat, the better: they found that those who managed seven portions a day were 42% less likely to die than those who managed only one.

Cooked vegetables were the most beneficial, followed by salad and then fruit - drinking juice didn't appear to make much difference, while canned and frozen fruit actually appeared to increase risk, perhaps because of higher sugar levels.

"The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference," commented lead author of the report Dr Oyinlola Oyebode.

"However, people shouldn't feel daunted by a big target like seven. Whatever your starting point, it is always worth eating more fruit and vegetables. In our study even those eating one to three portions had a significantly lower risk than those eating less than one."

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