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This seven-a-day habit could save your life

Date
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There’s a big ad for iced donuts on the side of some city buses at the moment urging us to ‘Donut resist Donut King’. It’s cute and the play on words is clever –but it makes you wonder where are the eye catching ads persuading us to eat food that’s actually healthy?

 We don’t need more encouragement to eat cake. The latest snapshot of our diet from the Australian Health Survey shows that a third of our total kilojoules comes from foods like cake, biscuits, confectionery, alcohol and soft drink that we don’t need. Meanwhile our vegie intake is dismal. Only seven per cent of us reach the recommended five serves a day, although 54 per cent manage  the recommended two serves of fruit.   

 Yet just before our sad level of vegie consumption was revealed in the AHS report last month, British scientists confirmed why we shouldn’t skimp on our greens.  After analysing lifestyle data for more than 65,000 adults, they found that eating seven serves of vegetables and fruit daily was linked to a 42 per cent lower risk of death from all causes. Vegetables seemed to be more protective than fruit according to the study in the  Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and  each serve of vegies  conferred  a 12 to 15 per cent lower risk of death -  prompting the scientists to suggest that 10 serves of vegetables  and fruit  daily might do us even  more good.

 So why is it hard for Australians to eat five serves of vegetables a day?  

Smart ads for sugary foods on buses aren’t entirely to blame but they’re part of the bigger picture of junk food marketing that creates mixed messages about how to eat. The diet presented by food advertising - low in fruits and vegetables and high in fast food, chocolate and snack foods – distorts the perception of a healthy diet, argues Children’s Health or Corporate Wealth, a new report from the Cancer Council NSW calling for tighter regulations to  reduce children’s exposure to  unhealthy food marketing.  

 “If you compare foods recommended in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating with foods marketed on TV, there’s a mismatch   and this has an influence on people, especially children,” says Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager for the Cancer Council NSW.   

 Another hurdle is confusion over what a serve of vegies is, says Hughes. One cup of raw vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables is the definition but not everyone can picture how this looks on a plate.  Visual cues like six cherry tomatoes, four cooked broccoli flowerettes or a single bunch of bok choy can help -  examples like these are used in the Cancer Council’s Eat it to Beat It program that  encourages parents of primary-school children to eat more vegetables and fruit.   

 Half a cup isn’t much so it’s not hard to fit three or four serves of veg into a portion of stir fry or curry, especially if you shrink the meat content. More vegies and less meat  lowers the cost of a meal, says Hughes, and tackles another obstacle to five a day – the idea that vegetables are expensive. 

 How else can you squeeze in more veg? Have salad on the side at dinner – and make enough for lunch at work the next day. Add raw or roast vegetables to every sandwich or wrap.  A meatless meal once or twice a week combining legumes with other vegetables can deliver four or five vegie serves in one go; homemade vegetable soup can give three serves in a single bowl. Do a vegie swap –replace half the pasta in a dish with steamed cauliflower. Eat weekend breakfast eggs with spinach or mushrooms, spread avocado or vegetable based dips on bread and snack on raw vegetables with ricotta or hummus.  

 If we all ate like this how would Australia’s health change? 

 “When you increase the amount of vegetables in a meal you generally have  fewer kilojoules so  we’d lose weight and have less  type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer as a result, “ says Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle. “Although the evidence that vegetables protect against cancer has weakened a little in recent years the evidence linking obesity to higher rates of cancer has strengthened, as has the evidence that fibre may help protect against colon cancer. “

 We might also have fewer fussy eaters.

 “We know that repeated exposure to a wide range of vegetables increases the uptake of vegetables and that for supertasters, people who find the taste of some vegetables too bitter, repeated exposure helps them adjust to the taste,” she adds.

 

80 comments so far

  • What you're missing here is that I eat foods that have a taste I like. Unfortunately, there are rather a lot of vegetables that are simply disgusting. I don't blame most people who don't have many vegetables in their diet. Things like pumpkin, broccoli, and cauliflower should be illegal.

    Fortunately for my health, my partner is a vegetarian and we rarely cook separate dinners, so I'm probably not doing too badly on the vegetable intake. The few that are rather awesome are also fairly versatile, e.g. potatoes, tomatoes, beans.

    Commenter
    Nope
    Date and time
    June 29, 2014, 7:08PM
    • Try cooking them in an interesting way. I make an awesome veggie curry using a fresh curry sauce from the supermarket, chick peas and with roti. There's lots you can do to make these 'bland' veggies taste better.

      Commenter
      Veg lover
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 8:15AM
    • Pumpkin, Broccoli and cauliflower are amazing! Perhaps you need to look at cooking them differently or having smaller pieces mixed into meals.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Longueville
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 8:23AM
    • Your opinion on these vegetables is hardly empirical evidence. Just because you think they are disgusting does not necessarily make them so, it just sounds as if you've carried some childhood phobia into adulthood. Rather you could be promoting ways to acquire a taste (sometimes it takes effort) for these wonderful and nourishing veges through cooking methods etc. instead of putting people off.

      Commenter
      eyeroll
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 8:36AM
    • You're right, vegies don't taste as nice as processed food. Exercise is hard, raising children is hard, working for a living is hard. How about we just skip all these things?

      Commenter
      Mouse
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 8:40AM
    • "and that for supertasters, ..., repeated exposure helps them adjust to the taste" Clare Collins.

      Apparently Supertasters are able to discriminate flavour at lower concentrations with more intensity than is the norm. Taste and smell are also (perhaps not surprisingly) closely related.

      Increased frequency of exposure to a food helps develop a tolerance of it. Kids eating crickets or having black olives for lunch routine...overseas.

      BBC Horizon Documentary - The Truth About Taste

      Oh...try blanching your green veg instead of boiling it. It has more texture and flavour. I find some of the green veg has a subtle flavour which is nuked if its boiled. Mushy greens taste horrid. The Broccoli stalks are fine to use and also tasty. They probably need a little more actual cooking rather than blanching.

      Give it a go...I think you're missing out on something really tasty that you could enjoy.

      Commenter
      MattG
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 8:53AM
    • Er, your opinion about the taste of vegetables is yours and yours alone. It also sounds exactly like a 3 year old.

      Commenter
      Goodness me
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 9:05AM
    • "Things like pumpkin, broccoli, and cauliflower should be illegal."

      Lol. We would have to have chemists authorised to give specific amounts to addicts, would we? Broccoli is, and always has been, my daughter's favourite vegetable. 'Can we have little trees?'

      Now, how to get her to eat tomato? (Actually she eats vast amounts in spag bol, minestrone etc, just never fresh.)

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 9:17AM
    • @ eyeroll:

      "Just because you think they are disgusting does not necessarily make them so"

      Wow, how condescending of you. Maybe you should donate your clearly more sophisticated and cultured tastebuds to Nope for a day instead of telling him/her that he/she's not permitted to not like certain foods.

      Commenter
      Dan
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 9:54AM
    • Hi Nope,

      What about finding ways to use the veggies that you DO like? If you hate broccoli, don't eat it. What about green beans? Snow peas? Delicious, crunchy asparagus? Grilled zucchini with a splash of balsamic vinegar? If you hate pumpkin, you can make some bloody delicious chips out of sweet potato. Wouldn't you fancy a really good, thick tomato soup, or some potato and leek, or watercress? Remember you can always cook these with chicken stock to give them some extra flavour. Seriously, work with the bits you do like and you might be surprised.

      And if you can ever bring yourself to give it a go, there's hardly anything better than cauliflower baked with some cheese... mmmm cheese. Is there anything it can't improve?

      @ MattG,

      I'm a supertaster (confirmed in university study) and I LOVE cruciferous veg, so it's got to be more than that. I did see a study recently that suggested a genetic basis for liking of broccoli, and I wouldn't be surprised. E.g. I have hated coriander my whole life, no matter how much I eat it to "get used" to it, it makes me wince and I just want it out of my mouth.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Location
      veggie patch
      Date and time
      June 30, 2014, 10:39AM

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