The UK Government’s Five A Day Recommendation

The concept of 5 portions of fruit or vegetable has been around for time.  A medline search for “five a day” included a reference to an article from 1995(1).  The concept is also not unique to the UK - food agencies and food manufacturers in the US also push it.

On the 10/01/2003, the BBC morning news were discussing the five a day concept with  a food campaigner.  It was mentioned that the UK government had quantified their portions.

We went to the web site of the Department of Health(2) and had a look.

All the useful information was not all listed on one page so we are summarizing it below.  It is based on information listed in “A Local Five-A-Day Initiative”(4) - Pages 11 to 12;  “A local Five-a-day initiative - A handbook for delivery”(5) - page 7; and Five-a-day portion information(3).


The following reasons are given as justification for recommending 5 portions:

  • A bad diet MIGHT(?) contribute to severe illnesses
  • An increase in the consumption of fruit and vegetables is important to help manage illnesses like asthma, heart problems, diabetes and various forms of cancer.
  • The reason why fruit and vegetables are so beneficial is because of their array of compounds: vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (including flavonoids, glucosinilates and phyto-oestrogens).
  • Some vitamins and phytochemicals are antioxidants, which destroy cancer causing free radicals in the body.
  • The suggested quantities are meant to be consistent with dietary recommendations around the world, including those from the World Health Organization.
  • Eating produce is better than taking supplements.  It’s great to see this acknowledged – in fact we’ll quote the source (4) - “It appears that the benefits of fruit and vegetables stem not only from the individual components, but also from the interactions between these components. Dietary supplements containing isolated vitamins or minerals do not appear to have the same beneficial effects as fruit and vegetables themselves. Indeed, in some studies, supplements caused more harm than good.”

It is also worth noting that the 5 portions is a recommended minimum amount and that it is importance of variety is emphasised.

How is a portion defined?

A portion of fresh produce is 80g which means 5 portions a day is 400g a day. 

How much is 1 portion?

Fresh, frozen, or canned Produce

Pure Juice (no drinks)

Dried Produce

1 portion = 80g

1 portion = 150ml of juice

1 portion = 1 portion of fresh produce

How much is 5 portions?

Fresh, frozen, or canned Produce

Pure Juice (no drinks)

Dried Produce

5 portions = 400g

You can drink more than 150ml of juice (1 portion) but it will only count as 1 portion to ensure variety

You can eat more than 1 portion but it will only count as one portion to ensure variety

The department of health has a list(3) giving approximate quantities for different fruit and vegetables – e.g. one medium onion is one portion.  However, it is very easy to use the kitchen scales.

What foods can count towards a portion?

  • Fresh, frozen, chilled, canned, and dried fruit and vegetables and 100% pure juice (no added ingredients) can contribute to a portion (see table 1).
  • Processed foods (e.g. pasta sauces, soups, stews and puddings) are not excluded but when they are high in added fat, salt and/or sugars they should only be eaten in moderation.  For that reason it is important always to check the nutrition information on food labels.
  • To ensure variety the following will only count as one portion even if you eat more than a portion:
  • fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies
  • Concentrated purees, such as tomato puree
  • Beans and pulse vegetables
  • dried fruit

Foods which don’t count towards a portion

  • Potatoes and other vegetables that are eaten as the main starchy ‘staple’ (such as yam and cassava).

  • Nuts, seeds, coconut, marmalade and jam.
  • Fruit drinks with added ingredients such as ‘juice drinks’ and squashes.

What about the children?

This question is answered by on the Food Standards Agency’s web site (6).  It is recommended that a child is introduced to an increasingly varied diet from the age two.  This leads up to the five portions by the age of five in other words the Five-A-Day rule applies to children aged five and above. 


It doesn’t really matter if the five daily portions will give the optimum dose of nutrients or not. For people who are not used to eating fruit and veg, putting together the five portions every day of the week can be a suitable challenge and learning experience.  Anybody who masters that would be ready to delve into the finer details of nutrition if so desired.

From the government literature it is clear that the five-a-day program is big and let’s hope they will succeed.

There were two topics I wish that the Department of Health would have covered – Pesticide residues (if you eat more fruit and veg you’ll consume more residues) and declining nutrition values in farmed produce (something that is mentioned in newspaper articles from time to time)


  1. Fruit and vegetable intake in the United States: the baseline survey of the Five A Day for Better Health Program - Subar AF, Heimendinger J, Patterson BH, Krebs-Smith SM, Pivonka E, Kessler R. - Am J Health Promot 1995 May-Jun;9(5):352-60

  2. Five-a-day programme -

  3. Five-a-day portion information -

  4. A Local Five-A-Day Initiative – First booklet of the Five-a-day resources to support the delivery of local Five-a-day initiatives. Published by the Department of Health, 2002 -

  5. A local Five-a-day initiative - A handbook for delivery – Second booklet of the Five-a-day resources to support the delivery of local Five-a-day initiatives. Published by the Department of Health, 2002 -

  6. “Does the five portions of fruit and veg recommendation count for young children?” – Q&A on Foods Standard Agency’s web site -