Life Etc: Body: Too much to stomach?

New American guidelines say we should eat nine portions of fruit and veg a day. So why, asks Hugh Wilson, are we munching on a measly five?

For those who have stuck to New Year resolutions and actually managed to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day in January, some unpleasant news arrives from America. It's not enough. According to new guidelines just released in the US, nine portions is now the minimum intake we should be aiming for.

America is not alone in the belief that the five-a-day rule is no longer sufficient. Australians are encouraged to eat seven portions of fruit and veg. In France and Canada, the figure is 10. There might be some discrepancy in what constitutes a portion and whether duplication is allowed, but the message is clear. According to guidelines, you have to eat more fruit and veg to be healthy in America and France than you do in Britain. Maybe fish and chips are better for us than we thought.

And it's not just food. The US guidelines also stress the importance of trying to fit in - between the endless salads - 90 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Again, the advice from the Department of Health in this country is more modest. Thirty minutes, five days a week should do the trick, it says.

Which all begs a number of questions. Who's got it right? Are we kidding ourselves with our piddling five portions? And, more importantly, how on earth do you fit nine portions of fruit and veg and 90 minutes of exercise into an average Monday? The latter is already exercising minds on the other side of the Atlantic.

The view of Dr Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Centre at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, is typical: "When the bar is always being set higher," she says, "it can sabotage people who want to change their lifestyle. People get discouraged thinking that whatever they do isn't enough."

Indeed, many nutritionists think the UK has got it about right. The car- loving, burger-munching Americans are deluding themselves. The French are fantasists. This is not about how many portions citizens of various countries actually eat: very few in any country meet the target (though most do better than us). The British guidelines might lack ambition, but at least they are anchored in reality.

"We still have some way to go before we're eating five portions a day," says Dr Hannah Theobald of the British Nutrition Foundation. "We should be encouraging people to eat more, but putting up the recommendations may put people off eating even three portions. Such a move is likely to be counter-productive."

It would be for Isobel Martin, a single mother from Manchester, who has managed to incorporate five portions into her diet - just. "I do it, but it usually means forcing down a couple of tangerines in the evening when I don't want them," she says. "After reaching five, being told I was still four out would be heartbreaking." And 90 minutes of exercise a day? "Forget it."

Nevertheless, Dr David McCarthy, reader in human nutrition at London Metropolitan University, says the new US guidelines are based on sound science. "The Dash (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) trial in the US on fruit and vegetable consumption and blood pressure is the main source of the data supporting this recommendation. It showed unequivocally that blood pressure was reduced when subjects doubled their intake of fruit and vegetables. The benefits of a diet richer in fruit and veg on lowering the risk of certain cancers - such as colon cancer - also underpins the new US guidelines."

If nine portions are better for us, shouldn't that be our target? In an ideal world yes, but let's learn to walk first. Few think that the US strategy of nutritional shock and awe should be adopted in the UK. "I was taken aback after hearing the US guidelines," says Dr McCarthy. "I feel they're just setting us up for failure."

On the other hand, what we mustn't do is regard the five-a-day rule as the nutritional finishing post. "Five portions are a minimum intake, but this aspect of the message is not taken on board," says Dr McCarthy. Dr Theobald agrees that, while the US has started producing optimum intake guidelines, our own are just a basic requirement: "It's often forgotten, but the UK guidelines say at least five a day."

For info visit www.healthierus.gov or www.dh.gov.uk

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches