How eating 5-a-day can improve your diet and overall health

You’ve probably heard that you should be eating ‘5 a day’ before, but have you ever wondered where the idea comes from, or why we hear so much about it?

In this article, Senior Health and Wellbeing Physiologist Abigail Green explores everything from how to make eating five a day easier, to how much you should be aiming to eat per portion.

Key takeaways

  • Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of minerals, vitamins and nutrients
  • Eating 5 a day can improve skin health, energy levels, and fitness
  • You should aim to eat 5 portions in total, not 5 individual foods
  • A “portion” roughly works out at an 80g serving
  • A great way to get your 5 a day is to “pack out” meals with vegetables
  • Try to diversify your intake and eat as many different colours as possible

Where does 5 a day come from?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that to maintain a healthy diet, adults should aim to eat “at least 400g (i.e. 5 portions) of fruit and vegetables per day”.

In 2003, the UK Government adapted this information to launch their own “5 a day” healthy eating campaign to raise awareness about the importance of eating more fruit and vegetables.

Since then, the idea has been an ever-present part of the conversation around healthy eating and diet education for kids and parents alike.

What’s the benefit?

  • Increased nutrient and vitamin intake
  • Getting and staying hydrated
  • Better skin health
  • Disease prevention
  • Weight management
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Enhanced mood
  • Clearer thinking

What foods count?

The WHO advice states that all fruits count, and that the only vegetables you should not consider part of your 5 a day intake are:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cassava
  • Other starchy root vegetables.

This does not mean that these vegetables cannot form part of a healthy diet. It just means that they should not be considered as part of your 5 a day due to their heavy carbohydrate and dense starch content.

What does one portion look like?

The NHS advises that one portion of fruit and vegetables roughly weighs 80g. Whilst this number will change for different foods, it’s a good number to keep in mind if you’re unsure about your portion sizes.

Portion examples

To help clear things up, we’ve broken down what one portion of fruit and vegetables looks like for an adult:


  • Two small-sized fruits (e.g. plums, kiwi)
  • One medium-sized piece of fruit (e.g., apple, banana, orange)
  • One cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
  • 30g of dried fruit


  • One cup of raw or leafy vegetables
  • Half a cup of cooked or chopped raw vegetables
  • One medium-sized vegetable (e.g., potato, bell pepper)

Ways to make things a little easier

  • Plan ahead and prepare: meal planning is proven to lessen the impulse to buy and eat junk food
  • Drink smoothies: smoothies are a great way to pack tonnes of fruit and vegetables into one meal
  • Pack healthy snacks: swap out a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps for a colourful fruit salad and a homemade strawberry smoothie
  • Make salads exciting: if you’re having a salad, don’t hold back on adding the bits you love too. Whether this is meat or fried beans and tofu, don’t restrict yourself
  • Don’t be afraid of frozen: keeping bags of frozen fruit and vegetables in the freezer is an affordable and convenient way of keeping healthy options on hand
  • Fill your meals with smaller vegetables: use diced carrot, onion, celery, and spinach to fill out pasta sauces and pie fillings

Does timing matter?

It's generally a good idea to spread your food intake out throughout the day. This aids with digestion and prevents you snacking on unhealthy foods because you’re feeling hungry. It also means your body avoids spikes and has access to a steady supply of nutrients and energy.

If you exercise regularly, eating fruits and vegetables before and after workouts can benefit your performance and recovery. These food groups provide carbohydrates for energy and help replenish glycogen stores after exercise. Additionally, the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables may aid recovery by reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress.

In short, the best timing to consume fruits and vegetables is at a time that works around your daily routine and personal preference. Some people prefer fruit in the morning, while others might enjoy vegetables as part of their lunch or dinner. Find a schedule that works for you.

Remember why you’re eating 5 a day

Eating fruits and vegetables is a great way to care for your body and improve your overall health and wellbeing. Thinking of the process as an exercise in self-care is a great way to get the ball rolling with eating new and exciting foods.

Changing our stance and perspective on what we put into our body can have a big effect on the way we think and feel. If we eat a lot of junk food, we’ll start to feel lethargic and tired more quickly. Give our body the nutrients and minerals it wants and needs, and you’ll find that the opposite is true.

Foods to give a go

Below, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite foods that you might not have tried before. Giving new foods a go is the best way to discover new flavours and find new recipes for you and your family to try.


  • Beetroot
  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel
  • Jackfruit
  • Kale
  • Okra
  • Pomegranate
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini


  • Avocado
  • Cherries
  • Coconut
  • Guava
  • Melon
  • Kiwi
  • Papaya
  • Passionfruit
  • Pineapple
  • Rambutan

Is this advice the same for children?

Yes, both children and adults should be aiming to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Adults will naturally be eating larger portions, but the percentage of fruit and vegetables in every meal should be the same for our little ones too.

Promoting healthy eating habits in children when they’re young means they’re more likely to eat healthily in adulthood. Diversifying your child’s diet means they’ll stay full for longer and have more energy throughout the day.

My child doesn’t like fruit and vegetables...

There are several things you can do to help them, including:

  • Lead by example: eat plenty of fruit and vegetables around them to show them you are practising what you preach
  • Make it fun: arrange their plate in an exciting or colourful way to get them excited about eating new foods
  • Involve them in cooking: children are a lot more likely to want to try new foods they’ve helped prepare and cook
  • Educate them: showing your child where fruit and vegetables come from can help reduce the stigma and worry they have around eating certain foods
  • Swap out unhealthy snacks: make sure your child is eating a balanced diet and not always snacking on unhealthy options like chocolate bars and crisps
  • Be patient and persistent: change doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t immediately like what you’ve cooked.
  • Encourage and congratulate: make them know you’re proud of them for trying new foods, whether they like them or not.
  • Reinforce progress: when your child does try something they like, promise to cook or make it again for them

Last updated Thursday 30 May 2024

First published on Thursday 30 May 2024