Ilona Amos: Our poor diet is killing us, so let’s talk veg

The UK's first ever Vegetable Summit is taking place in three cities across the UK, with the aim of improving public eating habits and benefiting health
The UK's first ever Vegetable Summit is taking place in three cities across the UK, with the aim of improving public eating habits and benefiting health
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It’s not really news anymore that our waistlines are expanding. Two-thirds of Scots are overweight or obese and this is having a massive impact on our health and life expectancy.

Worldwide, a bad diet is linked to one in five deaths. Researchers say this is down to the two extremes – malnutrition among poor people and unhealthy eating by the better off. But the biggest factor is a lack of whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

And, as well as being good for you, eating more vegetables and less meat is better for the planet, particularly if the produce is locally grown.

Researchers estimate adopting a vegetarian diet could cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 63 per cent.

However, in Scotland, a recent government health survey revealed consumption of vegetables was at its lowest level since 2003. Most adults manage an average of three portions fruit and veg per day, a good deal short of the generally recommended five. And the problem is more pronounced in the most deprived households, where shopping bags contain just two thirds of the amount of vegetables bought by the richest.

The survey found daily fruit and vegetable consumption was lowest for those aged 16 to 24 and highest among those of 55 to 64. Worryingly, only about one in eight children aged between two and 15 eat their ideal quota, a figure that has remained relatively stable for the past decade.

There has been plenty debate in recent times over how many portions of fruit and veg we should eat to stay healthy. The original 5-A-Day campaign was launched back in 1994 with the aim of lowering the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. It proved one of the most successful campaigns of its type ever, with public awareness standing at 85 per cent. Yet somehow we’re still not eating our greens – four in five adults in the UK are not eating enough. Cost, a lack of cooking skills and increasing reliance on ready meals are the main reasons, experts say.

Now a partnership of four health and environmental organisations has launched a drive called Peas Please, designed to persuade people to consume three-and-a-half of the five portions in vegetable form – we’re currently on about one-and-a-half. Nourish Scotland, WWF-UK, the Food Foundation and Food Cardiff are today staging their first ever Vegetable Summit in three UK cities simultaneously, bringning together representatives from business, research and health, as well as school children.

It will feature pledges from supermarkets, restaurants and catering companies to include more vegetables in products, which it’s hoped will result in millions of better meals going into schools, hospitals, canteens and care homes. Mars, baker Greggs, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Lidl supermarkets are just some of the firms that have signed up.

Greggs plans for half of all sandwiches to contain at least half a portion of veg by next year, while all soups and leaf-based salads will have a whole portion or more. Mars says rewriting serving suggestions on products like its Dolmio cooking sauces and Uncle Ben’s rice to include more veg will see 450 million extra portions on plates across the UK annually. An impressive estimate and all without even changing what goes into their products. Let’s hope we’re leaner and greener by 2020, when the three-year Peas Please campaign is due to end.