This may be a difficult question to answer for most of us; because we may not know how much is enough! Before we refer to a specific amount, it may be necessary just to say that “we all need to eat variety and plenty of vegetables and fruits every day”.

Vegetables and fruits have plenty of essential nutrients for health. There is a lot of evidence that eating plenty of vegetables and fruits contribute a lot into prevention of many diseases including many types of cancer. Vegetables and fruits have natural compounds like beta carotene and vitamin c that helps to reduce the risk of many types to cancer. They also have other important nutrients like folate, dietary fibre, vitamin E and other minerals which are all very important in reducing many types of cancer.

This makes it very important for all of us to target eating variety and plenty of vegetables and fruits everyday. These foods do not only taste good but they are also very nutritious and low in calories, which will contribute to maintaining good weight for those at risk of becoming overweight or already overweight.

It is unfortunate that in our Tanzanian communities, eating vegetables and especially green leafy vegetables is viewed as a low standard eating lifestyle and is associated with being poor. The more ones income improves, the more one distances him/her self from vegetables. This is not particularly true to Tanzania only, but also literature show that even in some western countries, some years back, when people’s income improves, they tend to move from foods of plant origin including vegetables to more meats and other foods of animal origin. While this was considered prestigious that time, since then experts have found out that eating plenty of vegetables and fruits is very important for our health. We need to view foods of plant origin as prestigious as those of animal origin, and indeed we need to build a culture of feeling good and highly prevelaged if we have and are able to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.

In most communities of Tanzania, not eating vegetables and fruits is not always the issue of affordability. Even in the areas where vegetables and fruits are produced and almost available for free to some households, they are not consumed in plenty.

I always like to tell this true story about a friend of mine who did a study in a certain village in Morogoro where they produce plenty of vegetables and fruits, to find our how much people eat what they produce. Taking an example of one family, this family of six were ready to eat their meal which was “ugali” (maize meal) and “mchicha” (spinach). The mchicha with sauce was highly spiced and looked very tasty. The family ate together, with plenty of ugali which for sure was enough for 6 people, the mchicha was very small in a small bowl, and everybody ate by diping a piece of ugali in the mchicha. At the end of the meal there was still some little mchicha left. By weighing and finding an average of how much each individual ate in regard to the mchicha, it was found out that on average each person ate less than 60 grams of mchicha. This means these people were mainly eating ugali with that taste of spices and salt. This happens in a household which they did not even need to buy the green vegetables because they produced plenty of them. We need to change this!

So, how much vegetables and fruits should we eat?

Experts world wide, especially those dealing with the prevention of of cancer and health promotion recommends that a person should eat at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruits everyday, thought the year.

I know the next question will be “how much is a portion?” Usually a portion of most (but not all) vegetables or fruits is about 80 grams, but it is well understood that in normal circumstances, no one will weigh the food they as they eat. Therefore, we need a general guide to assist the estimation. It is generally estimated that 80 grams is about a handful especially for those with less fluid content.

The following can also assist to estimate one portion of some selected vegetables and fruits:

Cooked vegetables:

  • Carrots=2 big serving spoons
  • Spinach = 2 big serving spoonful
  • Green peas = 3 big serving spoonful

Raw vegetables:

  • Salads like lettuce, tomatoes etc = One bowlful (a size that can hold a meal of one person)

Fruits:

  • Apple or banana = One whole medium size
  • Orange = one medium size
  • Grapes or raspberries = one handful
  • Orange or tomato juice (fresh, no water added) = one glass (150ml)
  • Plums = 2 whole
  • Pineapple or melons = one large slice
  • Dried fruits = quarter a cup

Again, it is recommended to eat 5 portions or more everyday. It is also recommended that out of the 5 or more portions, if you are using juice, it should count only for one portion no matter how much you drink. This means you can not drink 5 glasses of juice and think you have covered your 5 portions. Also vegetables should count not less than 3 portions, therefore two or more portions should come from fruits and 3 or more from vegetables. However, once your cover the recommended you can eat more of any.

Let us all aim at eating 5 or more portions of vegetables and fruits everyday, and don’t feel as if you have to be exact as long as you do not go under. Watching the variety and colors is important. The more the variety, in both type and color the better the quality. Target fruits and vetetables of different colours including dark green leafy, yellow-orange, blue-purple, white etc.. Each colour is important and it provides important nutrients that work together to protect our health. By eating 5 or more portions of fruits and vegetables everday, we reduce the risk of most cancers by 20% or more, especially the cancers of mouth, pharynx, esophageal, lungs, colon, rectum and stomach. There is also possibilities that fruits and vegetables contribute to preventing the risk of breast cancer and those of larynx, pancreas and bladder.

How can we achieve the intake of 5 or more portions everyday?

Include fruits and vegetables in every meal and as much as possible make them part of your snacks. Keep fruits, some easy to carry vegetables like carrots and dried fruits accessible even at work place if possible, and learn to enjoy them.

Also aim at seasonal fruits and vegetables, the neglected ones and sometimes the so called wild fruits and vegetables as long as they are edible and you enjoy them. (or you can learn to enjoy them). In most cases these are cheaper and in some rural areas they may be available for free. Whenever possible include raw vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, celery or others that can be eaten raw, and also include some fruits which can be eaten without pealing like guavas, pears etc.

Always observe safety!

If you have to buy your vegetables and fruits, make sure they look fresh with bright colors. Avoid buying vegetables with limpy leafs or bruises. Observe proper hygine and sanitation.

fruits

ENYOY EATING PLENTY OF VEGETABLES AND FRUITS EVERDAY, WITH VARIETY IN TYPE AND COLOURS.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, November 1st, 2008 at 8:48 pm and is filed under English, Lifestyle, Nutrition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.