38 Responses to “Five a day: The truth”

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  1. avatar craig says:

    The recommendations of 5 fruit/ veg portions a day originates from WHO recommendations in 1989, where they recommended a minimum of 400g a day, where one portion was 80g. This is 2 years before you say that it came about.

    Perhaps it was these recommendations that the NCI used when creating the 5-a-day campaign, but it wasn’t just fabricated. Using a minimum of 400g is why different countries recommend different amounts.

    You can read the WHO doc here http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/obesity/WHO_TRS_797/en/

    where the recommendations are originally made (p112 I think, in part 2.

    I’m not saying a support the 5-a-day campaign, far from it, its over simplified and dated. This said, I do believe that many people will benefit from increasing their fruit/ veg consumption. Whilst a handful of berries may well not be as nutrient dense as liver, it is much easier to eat, and many will argue taste better.

  2. avatar James says:

    I think that there is very good evidence for Five-a-Day that you may be unaware of (see below)! There is an incremental reduction in all cause and cardiovascular mortality (but not cancer mortality) per portion of fruit or vegetable eaten per day, with no incremental benefit in excess of 5 portions per day. A 25% reduction in mortality for people who eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables (or a mixture) per day compared to those who eat less than 1 portion per day is not to be taken too lightly!

    http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4490.long

  3. avatar Bernadette says:

    Hi Zoe, I’m interested in your ‘controversial’ 5 a day recommendations: liver, sardines, spinach, sunflower seeds and eggs. What constitutes a portion of each of these? I think they are a sound recommended with with vegetables and fruit in moderation. Thanks.

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Bernadette – hopefully this follow-up may help (http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2014/04/the-perfect-five-a-day/). It depends for different nutrients e.g. vit E – 50g of sunflower seeds would meet the daily need, but you’d then also get lots of other things so you would need less of other options. 70g of liver gives the whole daily need for many nutrients. There are nutritional calculators on line where you can put in what you eat and it calculates the nutrients you’ve had and then you can see what you might be missing.
      Hope this helps
      Best wishes – Zoe

  4. avatar Alison says:

    Hi Zoe, I find your arguments very interesting, I have spent a lot of effort trying to fit in more fruit and veg into my diet! What do you think of the new evidence linking eating fruit and veg with lower mortality?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331194030.htm

    I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

    thanks,
    Alison

  5. avatar Rey says:

    You are just a looser trying to sell stupid book aren’t you?

  6. avatar Ady says:

    What are your links to meat industry?

    • avatar Zoë says:

      Hi Ady – none whatsoever. I have no links to any part of the food industry – real or fake. I don’t even allow advertising on any of my sites. I work for no one. I write what I find and believe – not what anyone else may want me to say. I write about conflict and abhor it so I will never be part of it.
      Best wishes – Zoe

  7. avatar Jo says:

    I’ve been reading about salicylates, found in fruit and vegetables (and asprin). Salicylates are found in plants and are there to protect the plant from bacteria, fungi etc. Some people are sensitive to them, and can end up with all sorts of health problems when they try to eat a so called healthy diet by increasing their fruit intake. Worth a read, Zoe, and yet another reason to moderate your fruit intake (as if we needed another).

  8. avatar Al Reeves says:

    Well, Ive been eating the diet recommended diet all the way through and sure enough, I have lost weight and my blood pressure , which was never high particularly, is well down, so thanks, Zoe.

    I had lost weight before by eating similarly to this, in fact about 18Kg, which was quite good. Everyone who I have not seen for a while comments!

    However, some time ago I bought some meal replacement shake powder from GNC. I was surprised that replacing two meals a day actually increased my weight compared to eating REAL food. When I looked at the list of ingredients (you can see it at gnc.com and search for vanilla bean shake).

    The ingredients is frightening!

    To name but a few!

    Resistant fructooligosaccharides, partially hydrogenated soyabean oil, acesulfame potassium, sucralose. I need go no further!

    I’m just going to flush this stuff down the toilet now! Seriously!

    What a waste of money that was. I could have spent it on steak and leafy green vegetables and lost wait!

  9. avatar Zo says:

    I’m confused as to why you’re picking on 5-plus-a-day campaigns given that most people don’t get their five plus a day anyway, but they do generally eat more than their fair share of animal products. It’s not as if the five plus a day campaigns are telling people to eat less meat or fewer animal products.

    Also interesting that you don’t respond to any of the comments that are remotely critical of this post :/

  10. avatar Shaun says:

    Sorry, there was an ‘inconsistency’ I forgot to ask about:
    5. Vegans will tell you that eating animal products (meat, eggs, etc) causes your blood to become ‘acidic’—especially dairy which apparently leads to your bones leaching out calcium and leading to osteoperosis—is this acidity issue true?

    Thanks,

    Shaun.

    • avatar Zoë says:

      Hi Shaun – thanks so much for your really interesting post. Bear with me on the questions – got a full day today but will answer these asap
      Bye for now – Zoe

  11. avatar Shaun says:

    Hi Zoe,

    I got onto your website from the book “The Meat Fix” by John Nicholson. In his book he puts forth your assertions that fruit and vegetables only really contribute a single vitamin. I was very shocked and extremely skeptical at reading this. Having just read information on your site, I am now much more open to your assertions. I think it is brilliant that you are looking at the whole issue of nutrition and obesity from a ‘macro’ point of view.

    I have just ended a stint of about 8 months as a Vegan. *Ended* mind you. I tell you, those Vegans can be damn convincing. They roped me in—especially the “Best Speech You Will Ever Hear” by the Vegan God Gary Yourovsky (don’t get me wrong, I think what is happening to animals is atrocious). But as I am now learning, there are a few facts that Vegans like to conveniently leave out, or skew, such as “Meat rots in your gut”, when in fact, by the very definition of ‘rotting’ it’s actually fruit and vegetables that “rot in your gut” as the cellulose is broken down (somewhat) by microbial action and meat etc is broken down by enzymes. I’m also very shocked to hear that in fact insoluable fibre may be responsible for causing the likes of colon cancer.

    Then there is the whole “humans are herbivores because of teeth, jaw, hands, carb-digesting saliva, low-acidity stomach, bipedal, very long intestinal tract, our babies want to eat the apple and play with the rabbit” etc etc.

    Now, I consider myself somewhat intelligent (software engineer in defence/aerospace), yet I find myself in the rediculous, pathetic, annoying and angering situation of being a 40 year-old adult human who has NO IDEA WHAT TO EAT! In my opinion, when an intelligent person is confused, it generally means that person is being LIED TO. I’m not naive, I know our governments and industry are lying to us all the time (soy, vegetable oil, margerine). Thirty-odd years of health and nutrition advice from our government and these ‘expert’ nutritionist and dietitians—Result: Australia is one of the FATTEST countries in the world, with one of the highest rates of Type II diabetes…Well done ‘experts’.

    Anyway, now that I’m coming fully around to The Meat Fix and the Paleo way etc, there are still inconsistancies that I am restling with, and I was wondering if you could address them:
    1. Apparently human’s saliva is designed to start digesting carbohydrates, and Vegans will tell you that humans are carbohydrate-type animals and we are designed to get our primay energy from carbs…why is that the case and how does that compare with what you say about humans getting their nutrients and energy from meat, animal fat, etc;
    2. Our stomach acidity is much lower than that of carnivores, why then are we apparently meat-eaters?
    3. Why have we been led to believe that fruit and vegetables not only contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals, but also vital antioxidants (this may be a political/commercial so I’ll forgive you if you don’t want to answer that one).
    4. What is the ‘meat’ source of antioxidants—or is the requirement for antioxidants only by the very fact of our modern diet being a concoction of chemicals and hydrolized vegetable oils? (I think you actually answer that above but it would be interesting for you to elaborate if possible).

    Thanks,

    Shaun.

    • avatar Zoë says:

      Hi Shaun
      Got the to do list done! Some quick Q&A’s here:

      1. Apparently human’s saliva is designed to start digesting carbohydrates, and Vegans will tell you that humans are carbohydrate-type animals and we are designed to get our primay energy from carbs…why is that the case and how does that compare with what you say about humans getting their nutrients and energy from meat, animal fat, etc;

      Carbohydrates do start being broken down in the mouth with salivary enzymes. Protein is broken down in the stomach and fat is digested in the small intestine. The body needs protein and fat for cell repair, growth etc. The body can use fat or carbohydrate for energy. We don’t need carbohydrate at all – the ice age only ended 10,000 years ago and our ancestors survived for c. 30,000 years during the ice age with likely no or extremely little vegetation at all. The body will prefer to get energy from carbs, but that doesn’t mean that we need them. Analyse any food on the USDA database and you can see for yourself the nutrients in meat, fish, eggs, dairy vs grains/fruit. Veg/salad is good stuff – but not as good as animal foods.

      2. Our stomach acidity is much lower than that of carnivores, why then are we apparently meat-eaters?
      Barry Groves is the one I look to for the omnivore advice. There’s a great presentation of his here. Also check out Lierre Keith .

      3. Why have we been led to believe that fruit and vegetables not only contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals, but also vital antioxidants (this may be a political/commercial so I’ll forgive you if you don’t want to answer that one).
      Fruit and veg do contain antioxidants, but just not as many as other substances that are not promoted. Barry has a great chart here. Why is coffee not being promoted for example? I think that the overhype of fruit and veg is a post rationising attempt to justify the 5-a-day campaign. The cart has ended up before the horse!

      4. What is the ‘meat’ source of antioxidants—or is the requirement for antioxidants only by the very fact of our modern diet being a concoction of chemicals and hydrolized vegetable oils? (I think you actually answer that above but it would be interesting for you to elaborate if possible).

      The main points are in the ref note in the article above: Fruit is also widely promoted for its antioxidant properties: a) the antioxidant role in the body is best played by vitamin E and b) if we reduce our exposure to free radicals (processed food, pesticides, smoking, pollution etc), we need fewer antioxidants. There was an interesting article last week about a new study showing antioxidants may be harmful for cancer.

      5. Vegans will tell you that eating animal products (meat, eggs, etc) causes your blood to become ‘acidic’—especially dairy which apparently leads to your bones leaching out calcium and leading to osteoperosis—is this acidity issue true?

      Tea beckons so just cutting and pasting something from another article of mine:
      Best wishes – Zoe

      a) The body needs to maintain a pH balance of 7.4 at all times. Moving even 0.5 points away from this can be fatal. Hence the body manages this perfectly for us and will do so, no matter what we eat.
      b) The alkaline diet is vegan and, by definition, does therefore not provide retinol, vitamin B12, vitamin K2 or heme iron. Additionally, many vitamins and minerals are extremely difficult to get in a vegan diet e.g. vitamin D, unless the person eats 2.2kg of sunshine grown mushrooms, in a fat delivery mechanism (e.g. olive oil) daily.
      c) Any diet that cuts out all processed food is good – The Alkaline Diet has this in its favour. However, it also cuts out the most nutritious foods – meat, fish, eggs and dairy – and it has no means of delivering complete proteins as a result.
      d) The natural diet to which we evolved – hunter/gatherer – would have delivered acid foods in the form of meat/fish/animals and alkaline foods in the form of any vegetation available and this would have given us natural balance. Interestingly, most nuts and seeds are also acid based foods. Hence, during cold periods with no vegetation, all of our food intake would have been acidic – this has not been a problem for the body (indeed the main acid in our stomach is hydrochloric acid – a pretty corrosive substance!)
      Having read “Wheat Belly” on the day that the journalist called was very timely, as I had not realised the extreme acidity of wheat, as a food. Here’s a useful colour chart (part way down the page) to show the alkalinity vs. acidity of different foods (http://www.pureliquidgold.com/acid-alkaline-forming-foods.htm) Sugar is described as “acid” and wheat, white flour and pasta as “most acid.”

  12. avatar tizzy says:

    If you have ANY biology background, you would know that there is no such thing as vegetables. No, I’m not crazy! All veggies are fruits. Seed dispersal objects. So….its bad science to say we need one and not the other… Also, there are many more beneficial nutrients in food than the ones you see in the nutrition label… i.e. lycopene, etc. ….

  13. avatar Edna says:

    Zoe – I can’t find your source for the French advising “five a day or fewer”. I can’t see it on the link in your refs, although I may be looking for the wrong keyword. Can you point me in the right direction please?

  14. avatar Zoë says:

    Top find Travis! What a joke! Many thanks for this :-)

  15. avatar Travis Koger says:

    In order to see how pathetic and ludicrous this campaign is now, check out the Lifestyle section under the Nutrition tab on this link for Heinz Past Meals – Spaghetti Plus Meatballs.

    http://www.heinz.co.uk/ourfood/pasta/pastameals/spaghetti-plus-meatballs

    LOL!

  16. avatar John says:

    Hi,

    I wanted to point out something quite drastic you did not mention, not even in passing. Which has a very large impact on bowel, eosophageal, stomach cancers. Fibre…fruits and vegetables come with a large ammount of fibre, meats, fish and other animal products don’t. Your arguement however clever it tries to be is fundamentally flawed because you ignored this point.

    Although, I agree it is blatently obvious that the arguements made by others are also flawed when it comes to direct impact through nutrition on well being, disease, cancer and viruses.

    Since potatoes provide a high level of everything your body requires daily, adding vegetables or fruit for fibre makes sense. Meats are generally redundant with the addition of vitamin supplements but they do add a good ammount of fats and protien which would be what this diet is laking. If you want to eat heathily…eat varies on your three portions. It really is that simple.

    I belive that governments have addopted this idea of “five a day” so that they can push foods. Foods that people were not eating and were therefore hurting economies as opposed to wanting to help people physically.

  17. avatar Brad says:

    Hi Zoe,

    I found your site through a recent post by Gary Taubes, and I’m loving what I’ve read so far! I have a question about getting the RDA from the 5 omnivorous foods you selected. When I plug those into CRON-O-METER at the quantities you specified, I come up short on Potassium. I’m getting 2640mg with a RDA of 4700mg (56% RDA). Any idea why our results are different?

    Also, I’ve been following the Paleo scene and was wondering what you think about grains and seeds containing anti-nutrients, or problematic proteins that can damage the gut lining. I’m referring specifically to sunflower seeds since you include them in your “five-a-day.” Would it help to soak/sprout these before consuming?

    Thanks and I look forward to reading your posts regularly!

    • avatar Zoë says:

      Hi Brad – many thanks for your kind words.
      The suggested 5-a-day wasn’t meant to deliver all of every nutrient we need – it was meant to show that if you wanted to invent a 5-a-day slogan – at least base it on 5 of the most nutritious foods! In my book “The Obesity Epidemic: what caused it? how can we stop it?” I did the exercise to try to get all the nutrients with RDA’s for the USA and found that 9 foods would do it for omnivores – potassium not included, however, as explained in the passage. The passage is below.

      On the grains and seeds – I’m not a fan of wheat at all but I do think many people can tolerate grains (rice, oats, couscous) in moderation and they can be a versatile and enjoyable part of one’s diet and so don’t necessarily have to be ruled out by everyone. Nutritionally they won’t ever compete with quality meat/fish/eggs, but diet is also about enjoyment, practicality and flexibility and Paleo will be a step too far for many people. If someone is overweight or shows signs of not being able to tolerate grains then they have more reason to ditch them, but we don’t all need to. I have not seen seeds put in the same category and I wouldn’t see them as problematic. I’ve seen people suggest soaking grains (which for me takes away the practical element – if you need to soak something overnight to avoid problems, just don’t eat the problem in the first place!) but I think we should eat things in their most natural form and, for seeds, that means – they come in shells. Where the shells are edible – eat them – where they aren’t shell them. It just makes getting vit E a whole lot easier if you sprinkle a few sunflower seeds on your mixed salad – makes the salad crunchier too!

      Hope this helps
      Best wishes – Zoe

      “I did an interesting experiment, using the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food and nutrition database and the USA per capita consumption of sugars and flour. I analysed the nutritional value for the 121 grams of sugars and 170 grams of flour consumed by the average American. I then tried to see if I could get the American Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) from eating approximately the same number of calories (1,076) in real food. The USDA database does not have information for Biotin and it only records 11 minerals. There is not even an RDA for vitamins B5, D and K or for the minerals calcium, potassium, sodium and manganese. There is an “Adequate Intake” (AI) apportioned instead. The concept of RDA is bad enough. As Sally Fallon Morell said “why am I only allowed a certain level of nutrition?”

      I compared the 12 vitamins available and eight minerals – those for which there was both information available and an RDA, plus calcium and manganese, as important macro and trace minerals respectively. The results are summarised in Appendix 3.

      The outcome was that only the requirement for selenium was met by the flour and sugar intake. Every other nutritional requirement was woefully lacking. All RDA’s and AI’s could be achieved by eating 1,077 calories comprising the following: 35 grams of porridge oats; 125 grams of whole milk (not low fat); 75 grams of liver; 50 grams of broccoli; 200 grams of spinach; 25 grams of cocoa powder; 125 grams of sardines (oil based, bones included); 200 grams of eggs and 20 grams of sunflower seeds. The most interesting lessons were not the results, but the exercise itself. It illustrated the following:

      - It is difficult to get even the RDA for many nutrients and very difficult to get the RDA for some (calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin E were the most difficult) and this is with every food on the planet theoretically available.

      - In our preoccupation with macronutrients, we seem to have forgotten about micronutrients. If we eat food to obtain the vital micronutrients, the macronutrients will be what they will be (take care of the pennies and the pounds/dollars look after themselves). If we eat food to try to meet some made-up macronutrient composition, the micronutrients are likely impossible to consume. It is an inescapable fact that processed carbohydrates have little or no natural nutrition and even nature’s carbohydrates are comprehensively beaten by nature’s fats and proteins. Telling people to avoid fat is the same as telling us to avoid nutrition.

      - Our parents and grandparents were brought up on relatively cheap, highly nutritious, foods like liver, eggs and sardines. Cod liver oil was commonly administered by previous generations. When you see the vitamin A and D content of the latter, our elders were very sensible. We shun such foods nowadays and should not.

      - This is the most nutrition that we can derive from even real foods. This makes no allowance for: the quality of the food; nutrients lost in harvesting or over use of the land; cooking methods; or the fact that some nutrients need others for their absorption.
      What are the implications of this for the obesity epidemic? The body has a substantial and varied nutritional requirement. If we base our meals on starchy foods and consume an average 1,100 largely useless calories, we still have a nutritional requirement to be met. The body will continue to seek food in an attempt to get the nutrition it needs. We may then consume another 1,100 calories, likely as nutritionally lacking as the first batch and we arrive at a population that is both overfed and undernourished. That’s another way of defining obesity.”

  18. avatar jake3_14 says:

    Mich,

    Have you had your vit. D levels measured with a 25,OHD test? If so, what were the results? If not, how do you know your vit. D level is adequate? Also, how are you determining your daily protein requirements?

  19. avatar jake3_14 says:

    I eat a real-food. low-carb diet, but I take issue with one of your assertions.
    Since you state that “Potassium is the one mineral for which fruits and vegetables are the best sources. Potassium, however, can also be found in all of nature’s foods, so we don’t need fruits and vegetables to obtain this mineral,” why do you later say, “The best providers of vitamins and minerals are animal foods again, with seeds and a few non animal foods (kelp and peppers) being useful.” Tomatoes and spinach are very high in this mineral, and I include low-sodium V8 juice (800 mg potassium/cup) and a curried spinach (1000 mg potassium/cup) in my diet daily.

  20. avatar Mich says:

    And why were you comparing the calorie counts of the theoretical diets you imagined – I thought calories didn’t matter according to your books?

  21. avatar Mich says:

    I’m vegan and I’ve been getting my vitamin D from GOING OUTSIDE everyday. B12 is made by bacteria, not animals. I’ll stick to taking the bacterial sources rather than consume animal flesh. Since my vegetables, grains, legumes average out at 15% of their energy from protein, I frequently far exceed my actual protein needs of about 25g per day – getting around 60g. I also eat all I want, don’t stick to a random diet, and enjoy everything I eat. Go figure.

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