Local consumers still not eating their greens

safefood reveals findings of its review of the fruit and vegetable food chain

12, February 2008. While people here are aware of the health benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, consumers are still eating significantly less than they should. Only 21% of adult men and 19% of women on the island of Ireland are meeting the current World Health Organisation’s target of ‘five a day’², with young children eating even less.

These are some of the key findings of a review of the fruit and vegetable¹ food chain, the latest in a series undertaken by safefood. The review, which focused on fruit and vegetables which are eaten raw, looked at how fruit and vegetables are grown, sold and consumed across the island of Ireland.

To get the maximum goodness from eating fruit and vegetables, safefood is encouraging consumers to take advantage of the great variety of fruit and vegetables available - whatever form they come in, whether fresh, frozen, tinned or dried. Additionally, the report showed - based on the current information available - that organic fruit and vegetables are no safer or more nutritious than those which are conventionally produced.

The report also highlighted uncertainty among consumers about what actually constitutes a portion³. The importance of introducing fruit and vegetables into children’s diets is widely known, while exposure to a variety of tastes 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.”

Mr Higgins continued: “Very 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.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood commented: “Fruit and vegetables are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables cannot be overemphasized. There are many practical ways of keeping fruit and vegetables on our plates:

  • Enjoy some delicious fresh fruit such as a bunch of grapes
  • Snack on some carrot or celery sticks
  • Prepare a hearty vegetable soup – great for lunch, dinner or even a snack!
  • Whizz up a delicious fruit smoothie
  • Don’t be afraid to try tinned and frozen varieties
  • Try microwaving or steaming instead of boiling or frying
  • Avoid adding salt, sugar, cream or sauces - honey drizzled on fruit or garlic with mushrooms are two simple alternatives for added flavour.

“Although risks are low, consumers should exercise common sense when preparing and storing fresh produce. Raw fruit or vegetables should be washed thoroughly before eating or cooking while prepared fruit and vegetables such as salad leaves should be kept in the fridge, away from raw meat and poultry.”

safefood’s review found a number of barriers to the buying and consumption of fruit and vegetables such as concerns over quality and shelf life.  There was little concern though regarding potential health risks from chemical contamination of fruit and vegetables. As well as adhering to EU legislation, food safety agencies and agricultural departments have produced guidelines for growers and producers to minimise any risk.


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