Are you getting your 5-a-day? Now there's an app to check

Are you getting your 5 fruit and veg a day? Now there’s an app to check

  • NHS guidelines say people should eat five portions of fruit and veggies each day
  • But numerous studies have found many Britons are failing to reach this target
  • New app aims to take confusion out of calculating what counts for your 5-a-day 

Most people know they need to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day to stay healthy.

But do chips, crisps and strawberry jam count as one of your five a day? Research suggests almost one in 10 Britons mistakenly think they do. 

A new free app, developed by experts from Bournemouth University aims to take the confusion out of getting your daily dose of healthy food. 

Called SMART-5-A-DAY, the software helps keep track of the amount of fruit and vegetables people eat and how far away they are from getting the amount they need.

Called SMART 5-A-DAY the app encourages Britons to enter the amount of each fruit and vegetable they eat

Analysis suggests only a third of adults and only 12 per cent of teenagers in England eat the NHS-backed five fruit and vegetables per day.  

Bournemouth’s Professor Katherine Appleton, an expert in psychology and who helped develop the app, said messaging about the five-a-day had been overall very successful.

But she added their research has suggested that people struggle to implement it correctly in their day-to-day lives.

She said: ‘Almost everyone knows they should eat five a day.

‘But when we looked a little further, it was clear that a lot of people did not know what counts towards the target, they did not know what a portion size is, and many did not realise that they needed to eat five different things.

‘Our studies also showed that lower knowledge was associated with lower consumption of fruits and vegetables.’

In a survey before creating the app, the team found 9 per cent of people thought chips and strawberry jam were part of their five a day, while 6 per cent thought crisps were included.

People also struggled to understand portions when it came to smaller fruits like raspberries, getting more than 90 per cent of questions on portion size for these fruits wrong.

This is where SMART-5-A-DAY comes in.

Users input how much of certain fruit and vegetables they are eating per meal or snack and then it calculates how that counts towards filling each of the recommended five per day.

Professor Appleton says they hope the app will have a lasting impact on how people incorporate healthy eating into their diet. 

‘What is unique about this app is that as well as tracking daily fruit and vegetable intake, it teaches people about portion size, so they get to the point where they know what they need to eat themselves,’ she said.

‘We think this will be an effective tool to improve people’s diets for the long term, rather than simply for the short period that they use the app.’

While Government estimates vary the overall consensus is far too many Britons are not meeting the NHS recommendations for intake of fresh fruit and vegetables

What fruit and vegetables counts for the 5-a-day goal?

According to the NHS the following counts to one of your 5 A Day:

  • 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables counts as 1 portion including those that go into other meals, like soups.
  • 30g of dried fruit counts as 1 portion
  • Another general rule is to consume a variety of food and vegetables, so five portions of apples doesn’t count as more than 1, for example. 

Other foods can also form part of the total five portions but have limits:

  • 150ml of fruit juice, vegetable juice or smoothie can count as 1 portion but only once due to the amount of sugars released during the crushing or blending process.
  • A 80g portion of beans and pulses only counts as 1 of the 5 A Day as while they are a great source of fibre they contain fewer nutrients than other fruits and vegetables.

 And some don’t count at all:

  • Potatoes, while a good source of fibre, B vitamins, and potassium, don’t count to the 5 A Day total as they are generally used as a replacement for energy-rich starchy foods like bread, pasta or rice and therefore the British public generally eat enough of them.
  • The same logic applies to other similar foods like yams, cassava and plantain.

The NHS five-a-day guidance was issued in 2003 based on advice from the World Health Organization that eating 400g of fruit and vegetables per a day helps lower the risk of serious health problems like heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

British adults are advised to consume five different 80g portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

These can include fresh, frozen and dried servings.

However there are some limits. For example, potatoes don’t count at all.

Pulses and beans can only ever account for one portion no matter how much you eat. This rule also applies to juice and smoothies. 

Fruit and vegetables are full of the vitamins and minerals necessary for a variety of bodily functions as well as being a good source of fibre, an essential element for good digestive health.

Consumed as part of balanced diet, they are also less likely to cause obesity than other fattier food options.

Obesity is an ever-growing health problem in the UK, with some estimates suggesting the health problems it causes like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, cost the health service £6billion every year. 

Numerous surveys suggest far too few Britons are including enough healthy foods in their diet. 

A 2019 analysis of Government data by the Health and Food Supplements Information Service found only 31 per cent of adults aged 19-64, 26 per cent of adults aged 65-and-over and a shocking 12 per cent 11-18-year-olds are achieving their recommended five portions a day. 

Other Government estimates vary, with results from a 2019/20 survey of 17,000 for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport finding 55 per cent of people aged 16-and-over reported eating five portions per day.

NHS data for 2018, the latest the health service has available, found only 28 per cent of adults and 18 per cent of children ate the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.   

SMART 5-A-DAY is available in the Google Play Store for Android phones from today. 

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