22/04/2014 11:33 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 06:59 BST

Vegetables - The Elixir of Life?

What if I said that I could help you reduce the risk of dying before your time by 42%? Where do I sign, I hear you say? I'm not looking for you to go on an Indiana Jones style quest or even sign away your life possessions. All I ask is that you up your fruit and vegetable intake. Is that it????

Research published by University College London in March 2014, used the Health Survey for England over 12 years, 2001 - 2013, to study the eating habits of 65,226 English people and found:

  • Eating seven or more portions of vegetables and fruit reduces the risk of death by cancer by 25%;
  • Eating seven or more portions of vegetables and fruit reduces the risk of death by heart disease by 31%;
  • Eating seven or more portions reduces the risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 42%;
  • Vegetables provide greater health benefits than fruit; and
  • Fruit juice showed no evidence of health benefit.

These figures change according to sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake, and exclude deaths within a year of the food survey.

We always knew that vegetables protect us from heart and circulatory diseases, which cause more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, and cancers, which also affect 1 in 4 people. If you still need convincing I suggest you read this article.

Trends in Eating Habits in England

According to the Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England 2014 Report

since 2005, average weekly consumption of fresh vegetables per person fell 6.1% from 1,156g to 1,086g and fruit purchases have been falling since 2006. When compared with the recommended 7 portions a day over 7 days which would amount to 3,920g, a sizable shortfall is being consumed.

Likewise the same report found that there have been significant upward trends in household expenditure on total fats and oils, butter, sugar and preserves, fruit juice, soft drinks and beverages' suggesting that consumers in charge of grocery shopping consider a high fat, high sugar diet more palatable than a healthier one.

Eating Habits in Mediterranean Countries

Compare this with the typical Mediterranean Diet:

Fruits and Vegetables: Mediterranean Diet provides a whopping 6-12 servings per day.

Grain Products: Mediterranean Diet provides 4-6 servings per day.

Milk and Alternatives: Mediterranean Diet provides 1-3 servings of low fat dairy products per day.

Meat and Alternatives: Mediterranean Diet provides 1-2 servings of poultry, fish and shellfish per day with a limit on Red Meat consumption.

It sounds like they're doing something right. We should seek to emulate their style.

Portion Sizes

When we think of portion sizes, most of think super size, but amazingly a portion of fruit or vegetable is much smaller than we think. 75g - 80g (approximately 3ozs) in weight only. I've shared this resource before, but it's a super handy tool to fruit and veg portion sizes.

1 Portion Fruit = 1 medium apple or 2 small apricots or 2 tblsp. Rhubarb compote etc.

1 Portion of Vegetables = ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of salad ingredients

For breakfast this morning I was able to comfortably eat 2 portions of fruit with my natural yoghurt. Only 5 portions of vegetables to go.

How to Get Your 7 a Day

Check out my handy list on how to get your recommended 7 a day.

If it's the elixir of life is this easy, I don't know what's stopping us?!