Plant Cuttings

More reasons to like plants

How helpful is healthy eating advice, if you don't have the money for making choices?

In attempts to improve the health of the nation, the UK government has for many years been trying to encourage its citizens to consume more plant products to benefit from their health-promoting properties. In March 2003, Britain’s last/most recent (! – 2 days to go??!! Ed. – Mr Cuttings, no political commentary, please!) Labour government introduced its ‘5-a-day’ campaign.* This noble campaign aimed to see all Brits consuming at least 5 portions of fruit and/or vegetables each – and every – day.

An adult portion is 80g, the equivalent of two or more small fruit, e.g. two plums or two satsumas or two kiwi fruit or three apricots or six lychees or seven strawberries or 14 cherries (i.e. the amount that can fit in the palm of your hand). Allowable foods – in addition to those just listed – in this context include sweet potatoes, parsnips, swedes and turnips, but NOT potatoes, yams, cassava or plantain.

Many carrots
Carrot Diversity. Photo: ARS / USDA / Wikipedia

For those to whom the idea of eating raw, unadorned, naked, nutrient-packed, health-promoting, freshly-harvested fruit and veg is too much to bear, these ‘fruitables’ don’t have to be fresh to count as a portion. Neither do they have to be eaten on their own; they also count if they’re part of a meal or dish, such as soups, stews or pasta. But, no sooner have some people got over that shock than the number of recommended portions has doubled  – yes, to 10 a day!**

This is the advice gleaned from Dagfinn Aune et al. who investigated fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality in humans. But, as with all advice, there are alternative points of view. One such is Kathleen Kerridge’s. Whilst acknowledging that, in an ideal world, doubling our fruit and vegetable intake is a good idea, she doubts that it would be possible to afford all that produce in today’s ‘austerity Britain’, let alone cook it.

And that conflict is often at the heart of well-intentioned dietary advice. Yes, it is good for us. But, can everybody afford to do what is deemed necessary to reap the rewards of better health and well-being? The world is still far too divided into those who can (and have the funds with which to do so), and those who know they should (but realistically can’t afford to do so).

Alternatively, perhaps those who don’t subscribe to 10-, 7- or even 5-a-day may be mindful of the suggestion that major changes to the Amazonian rainforest may be a direct result of humans’ ‘ancient hunger for fruits and nuts’ (reporting on work by Carolina Levis et al.). Thus, whilst the meek may not inherit the Earth, at least the plant-food-averse poor may be preserving it for a while longer…***

* A policy which is based upon joint World Health Organization [WHO]  and Food And Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) advice, whose global advocacy recommended a ‘minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day […] for the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as for the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies, especially in less developed countries.’ A message which is also endorsed by many other nations worldwide. Advertorially, the eye-catching, promotional slogan ‘5-a-day’ was apparently ‘first dreamt up on the fields of California in 1988’, according to Michael Mosley

** Interestingly, a scientific paper three years ago by Oyinlola Oyebode et al. had previously advised that 5-a-day should be extended to 7+-a-day. At the time that was promoted – bigged-up quite literally – by the press as 10-a-day. Curious, then, that it’s taken a second scientific paper approx. 30 months afterwards for the 10-a-day advice to be front page news again. Will it catch on this time around?

*** Maybe that’s what Amazonia’s pre-Columbian geoglyphs (see article by Jennifer Watling et al., or the related news item) are trying to tell us?


Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L. T., Keum, N., Norat, T., … Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality–a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology.

Levis, C., Costa, F. R. C., Bongers, F., Peña-Claros, M., Clement, C. R., Junqueira, A. B., … Salomão, R. P. (2017). Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition. Science, 355(6328), 925–931.

Oyebode, O., Gordon-Dseagu, V., Walker, A., & Mindell, J. S. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 68(9), 856–862.

Watling, J., Iriarte, J., Mayle, F. E., Schaan, D., Pessenda, L. C. R., Loader, N. J., … Ranzi, A. (2017). Impact of pre-Columbian “geoglyph” builders on Amazonian forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(8), 1868–1873.

About the author

Nigel Chaffey

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.