That's according to the results of a national survey of 16,000 people, published online last month by the International Journal of Obesity. While government healthy eating campaigns aimed at promoting increased intake of fruit and vegetables are starting to make positive inroads in some Australian states, there's still a long way to go to meet daily targets for optimal health and disease prevention. With fresh spring produce packing greengrocers' shelves, now is a great time to start squeezing more fruit and veg into your day.
Many Australians are aware of the importance of eating fruit and vegetables. Surveys show that when asked what recent changes they have made to improve the healthiness of their diets, four of the top eight responses are eating more broccoli, green leafy vegetables and carrots, and drinking more fruit and vegetable juices feature. However, despite these positive signs and the fact that at least 92 per cent of Australians believe their overall diet is extremely or very healthy, most people are still a long way from recommended intake levels. A significant rift exists between perception and reality when it comes to assessing fruit and vegetable intake.
For optimal health, the recommendation is to eat daily at least five servings of vegetables (one serve equals half a cup of chopped vegetables, or one cup of salad) and two servings of fruit (one serve is equal to one average piece, or two small pieces). Fresh, frozen, dried and canned all count toward the recommended five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit.
To meet these recommendations an individual needs to eat a piece of fruit with breakfast and one with lunch, a medium bowl of salad with lunch and half a dinner plate covered with vegetables in the evening.
Sounds easy -- so why are we so far away from achieving optimal intakes, particularly when it comes to vegetables?
Research conducted in Victoria has found the barriers to fruit and vegetable intake are many, including being unfamiliar with serving recommendations, perceptions that vegetables are eaten only with evening meals, preference for eating meat, believing that recommended quantities are too big, and a lack of preparation time.
The researchers of this study suggested possible ways to help people eat more fruit and vegetables -- education about recommended number and size of servings, encouragement to spread fruit and vegetable consumption over the day, and ideas to increase the sensory appeal of fruit and vegetables.
To address some of these barriers, start eating fruit and veg early in the day -- and keep going. Try tomato on toast or fruit sliced onto cereal, pack fruit and veg for snacks, and prepare salads the day before so they're ready to take to work the following day.
Add olive oil, lemon juice, herbs or spices to increase the appeal of steamed vegetables, or throw an extra handful into curries, stir fries, pasta sauces and other mixed dishes. Keep fruit and veg at the top of your thinking and they will soon become a habit. Reaching the recommended target will become easier and your health will benefit significantly.