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Ten-a-day? 'How to sneak in more veg without feeling you're living on rabbit food'

Any increase in the amount of veggies you’re eating will stand to you, writes nutritionist Ciara Wright.

WITH MOST OF us not reaching the five-a-day recommendation already, what hope do we have of reaching ten-a-day?

There is now good evidence that the more fruit and vegetables we eat, the lower the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Sounds like a good reason to eat your greens, but is ten-a-day beyond most of us?

You could be eating none-a-day

Given the average food choices in Ireland, it is certainly possible to reach dinner time without having eaten any vegetables.

With cereal, or even porridge, for breakfast and a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, not one single life-saving vegetable may have crossed your lips by evening time.

If this is the pattern you are following, it’s probably unlikely that you’re having ten vegetables for dinner, and I’m not sure your gut or those living with you would thank you for that anyway.

Most families will have some vegetable with dinner, although not always. Think of the old reliable spaghetti Bolognese. While we always recommend this is served with a green salad that covers half your plate, in reality, I doubt the kids are tucking into their rocket.

Ten-a-day is not recent news

Despite the recent media coverage, the ten-a-day finding is not new.

Granted, this research is very comprehensive and provides strong evidence for increasing your intake of plant foods. However, we heard the ten-a-day evidence in the media in 2014 when a University College of London study showed that people who ate at least seven portions of fruit and vegetables daily were 42% less likely to die from any cause.

At this time, the experts advised we increase our intake. However, changing the government recommendations of 5-a-day was deemed pointless; people already struggled to reach this. While this new research is even more conclusive, the same argument holds.

Does recommending ten-a-day make it more difficult for people? Is such an unsurmountable target putting us off even trying at all?

Aim for five-a-day at least

If you decide to make a concerted effort, getting 5-a-day is still a good aim. Five or more portions of fruits and vegetables could prevent 5.6 million premature deaths per year the new study calculated.

According to the most recent Healthy Ireland Survey (October 2016), only one in four of us are currently achieving this daily, although women do slightly better than men.

Often, when people decide to eat a little healthier, we often find they increase their fruit intake first as these are sweeter and therefore more rewarding to our brain than lower-sugar vegetables.

However, the 5-a-day should really comprise only two pieces of fruit at most and at least three portions of vegetables.

Sneaking in the extra vegetables

shutterstock_526575322 Shutterstock / Slobodan Kunevski Shutterstock / Slobodan Kunevski / Slobodan Kunevski

So how do we sneak in more vegetables without feeling like we’re living  on rabbit food?

Green smoothies have gained massive popularity and are a great way to sneak in kale, spinach or pak choi. Simple choices can help too, like making your sandwich at lunch an open sandwich. Ditch one slice of bread and replace with chopped salad veg such as peppers, carrots, tomatoes, baby corn, sugar snap peas or cucumber.

You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to make a salad but you do need to be prepared to do a little chopping before you head out to work.

Another tip is to make a slaw of finely chopped white, red or Chinese cabbage, fennel or radish and carrot and keep this undressed in the fridge in a Tupperware container. It will keep for a couple of days and you can take a portion out each morning on your way to work and dress it as you go.

For the family, try using a “hidden veg” pasta sauce for the kids. Using a base of tomato passata, add chopped vegetables such as onion, celery, mushrooms, aubergine, courgette, peppers and spinach and cook until the vegetables are soft.

Make it even easier and faster by chopping the veg in your food processor if you have one. Add red lentils for healthy protein and plenty of garlic for flavour.

When the vegetables are cooked through, blitz it up so all those potentially objectionable vegetables disappear. Stir in a good dollop of mascarpone cheese to make it taste delicious and serve over pasta with torn basil.

We also know that kids follow our example, so making sure that vegetables make an appearance at every meal time is important.

Serving them as a “starter” is a great trick – get them while they are starving and serve up the vegetables first, either raw peppers they can grab with their hands or add a little butter or parmesan to green beans and allow them dig in.

Prevention is better than cure

It is safe to say that most us have some room for improvement here and when it comes to chronic illness, prevention is definitely better than cure.

Any increase in vegetable intake will stand to you, so whatever you are eating now, eat more.

Ciara Wright PhD DipNT is Director and Senior Nutritionist at Glenville Nutrition Ireland.

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