safefood urges consumers to increase intake of fruit and vegetables

New report highlights low intake of fruit and vegetables on the Island of Ireland 

13 February, 2008. Earlier today, safefood  issued the findings of its review of the fruit and vegetable¹ food chain across the island of Ireland. The review found that despite consumers being well informed of the health benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, consumption of fruit and vegetables among consumers remains low.

Only 21% of adult men and 19% of women on the island of Ireland are meeting the current WHO target², with young children eating even less. To maximise the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, safefood is encouraging people to eat a mixture of fruit and vegetables whatever form they come in, whether fresh, frozen, tinned or dried. In addition, the report also showed that based on the balance of current scientific evidence, organic fruit and vegetables are no safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced varieties.

The report also highlighted lack of clarity among consumers in relation to what constitutes a portion³. The importance of introducing fruit and vegetables into children’s diets is widely recognised and repeated exposure to a variety of tastes, textures and flavours in childhood leads to greater consumption and enjoyment of foods later in life, including fruits and vegetables.

Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood, commented “Fruit and vegetables are highly nutritious and an essential part of the diet. They can help maintain a healthy weight and are associated with a decreased risk of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and type II diabetes. It is worrying that the consumption of fruit and vegetables on the island of Ireland is low, especially when compared to our European cousins and simple steps can be taken to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed like choosing an apple or banana as a quick, convenient snack or including frozen vegetables with your dinner.”

As part of the review process, research was conducted, which highlighted a number of barriers to the buying and consumption of fruit and vegetables, and concerns over quality and shelf life. 

There was little concern regarding the potential health risks from chemical and microbiological contamination of fruit and vegetables. In addition to enforcing EU legislation, the respective food safety agencies and agricultural departments have produced guidelines for growers and producers to minimise the risk of food borne illness resulting from the consumption of fruit and vegetables. 

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood commented “Fruit and vegetables are a rich source of many vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals and the health benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables cannot be overemphasized. Whether it’s enjoying a bunch of grapes, snacking on some carrot sticks or having a hearty vegetable soup or delicious fruit smoothie, there are many practical ways of keeping fruit and vegetables on our plates, especially children’s. Tinned and frozen varieties are also convenient options. When cooking fruit and vegetables, try microwaving or steaming instead of boiling or frying and avoid the addition of salt, sugar, cream or sauces - honey drizzled on fruit or garlic with mushrooms are two simple alternatives for added flavour.

She continued, “When eating raw, uncooked fruit or vegetables, they should always be washed before eating and cleaned carefully before cooking. Prepared fruit and vegetables such as bags of salad leaves should be kept in the fridge, away from raw meat and poultry to avoid cross-contamination. In addition, utensils and cutting boards used to prepare meals should be washed thoroughly between uses. Although the risks associated with eating fruit and vegetables are low, consumers should follow these sensible steps when preparing and storing fresh produce.”

Ends

Editors Notes

¹For the purpose of this review, potatoes are excluded as they are classed as ‘Breads, Cereals and Potatoes’ food group due to their high starch content and are not consumed raw.

safefood previously published reviews on the Poultry and Fin Fish food chains.

²The World Health Organization (WHO) advocates a daily intake of 400g of fruit and vegetables for health – approximately five portions based on an average weight of 80g per portion.

³A portion of fruit and vegetables is;

  • 1 large piece of fruit, i.e. 1 apple, 1 orange, 1 banana
  • 2 small pieces of fruit, i.e. 2 satsumas, 2 kiwis
  • 100ml of unsweetened pure fruit juice (1 small carton = 200ml)
  • ½ a tin of fruit, in its own juice
  • 2 tablespoons / 3 dessertspoons vegetables i.e. carrots – chopped or grated
  • 1 small salad, i.e. lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery sticks

Adults aged 18 to 64 years ate 276g of fruit and vegetables per day. This compares to Spain where adults eat a total of 605g per day; Italy 479g per day and France, 467g per day. (The World Health Organisation: Highlights on Health, UK.  2004)

Tomatoes, carrots, apples, bananas and orange juice make the biggest contribution to the ‘five-a-day’ target. Composite meals, i.e. meals that include a mixture of vegetables such as stews or casseroles, are an important contribution to total vegetable intakes.

Age has a significant effect on how much fruit and vegetables are eaten. Adults aged 18 – 45 years eat 128g of vegetables and 114g of fruit per day compared with 147g and 125 g respectively, in older age groups.

Further barriers to consumption revealed in the review include accessibility and the cost of fresh produce, lack of public transport and storage facilities.

Phytochemicals are compounds found in plants shown to possess health benefits.

About the review

The aim of the review is to address the issues of consumer concern and provide consumers with relevant information to help them make informed choices about the food they eat.

The review outlines the nutritional and health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables as well as the basic processes by which fruit and vegetables enter the consumer food chain; the controls in place to protect consumers from potential risks; and the food hygiene practices that consumers should follow when buying, storing and eating fruits and vegetables.

A summary document giving a brief overview of the findings of the review and the full report are both available on safefood’s website at www.safefood.eu