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Fruit and veg

Are bagged salads safe to eat? I've heard they can give you food poisoning.

Salad and other fruit and veg make up an important part of our diets and we should all be trying to eat '5 a day'.

Any food that is raw could have germs on the outside of it, and peeling or cooking fruit and veg removes these germs. For veg that won't be peeled or cooked, washing can help remove germs. But you don't need to do this for salads that are pre-prepared and sold in bags that are labelled as ready-to-eat. These are fine to eat straight from the packet. But if you're not sure always check the label.

Salad growers follow strict standards to make sure there's very little chance of germs getting onto the salad when it's growing and being harvested. Before the salad is bagged it's also carefully washed to remove any soil and this helps remove any germs that might be on it.

You should keep the salad in the fridge and follow the instructions on the food label to help keep the salad fresh.

I read recently about some cows that died after eating damaged sweet potatoes. Are they harmful to people?

The sweet potatoes you read about were damaged and mould had grown on the damaged parts. There was no issue about them being in the human food chain, because the potatoes were not considered good enough quality for people.

Sweet potatoes are often used as livestock feed but if they are mouldy they should not be given to cattle, because the chemicals produced by the mould can cause lung disease.

Moulds can grow on most types of food if the conditions are right and they grow fastest in warm, moist conditions. When moulds grow they can produce harmful chemicals called mycotoxins, you cannot see these chemicals so the safest option is to always throw mouldy food away.

You should also avoid eating green or sprouting parts of potatoes, this includes sweet potatoes, because they can contain high levels of harmful chemicals called glycoalkaloids. You can find out more at the link below.

I eat tinned green beans, butter beans and kidney beans nearly every day, which I assume are processed foods. I've heard that processed foods are high in salt, so should I stop eating tinned veg and beans?

It's true that tinned vegetables and beans are 'processed', but that doesn't mean they aren't good for you.

Often people use the term processed food' as shorthand for poor-quality, unhealthy food and there are many processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in vitamins and minerals. But bear in mind that most foods that we eat have been processed in some way - for example, wheat is processed into flour, and milk is processed into cheese. So the fact that food is processed doesn't mean that it automatically becomes an unhealthy choice.

Tinned pulses, such as butter beans and kidney beans, contain protein, fibre, iron, calcium and thiamin (also known as vitamin B1). And they are much more convenient than dried pulses, which need to be soaked and cooked for a long time.

Choose tins of pulses and vegetables that say 'no added salt', when you can. If there isn't a salt-free option, try to choose the brand that is lowest in salt. You can also reduce the salt content of tinned pulses and veg by draining and rinsing them under running water.

Remember that baked beans can be high in salt (and you can't rinse them), so choose lower-salt versions when possible.

Tinned vegetables such as green beans, carrots and peas are also convenient because they keep for a long time. Tinned veg contain lower levels of vitamin C than fresh or frozen veg, but they contain more beta-carotene, iron and calcium than freshly boiled veg.

Tinned pulses and vegetables count towards the five portions of fruit and veg we should all be aiming to eat every day. One portion is three heaped tablespoons.

Try to eat a variety of fruit and veg, including some that are fresh and frozen. Don't eat only tinned or dried fruit and veg, because these are lower in certain vitamins, including vitamin C.

Do I need to wash or peel fruit and vegetables?

It's a good idea to wash fruit and vegetables before you eat them to ensure that they are clean, and to help remove germs that might be on the outside.

If a vegetable or piece of fruit is especially dirty, washing might not be enough to get it clean, so then you could peel it. For example, carrots sometimes need scraping or peeling to remove soil.

Do mushrooms count towards my fruit and veg portions? If so, how many are there in a portion?

Mushrooms do count towards your daily fruit and veg portions. About three heaped tablespoons of mushrooms will count as one portion.

Like most fruit and veg, mushrooms are naturally low in fat. But they absorb lots of oil when fried, so try to use just a small amount of oil. You could add mushrooms to casseroles, curries and pasta sauces, try grilling large field mushrooms with a tiny bit of olive oil and garlic, or put sliced raw mushrooms in salads.

Remember, try to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day. It's important to eat a variety of different types, to help you get the range of nutrients we all need for good health.

Is avocado a fruit or a vegetable? What nutrients does it contain?

Avocados are classified as fruit, but they are usually eaten in savoury meals. Avocados contain lots of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, potassium and vitamin B6.

They are also high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can help to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. As part of a healthy diet it's important to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat and replace it with unsaturated fat, as well as reducing the total amount of fat we eat.

So, avocados are a healthy choice, but because they contain more fat than most fruit and veg, try not to eat too much. Eating too much of any food containing fat can make us put on weight if we don't use up the energy through physical activity.

Half an avocado counts as one of the five portions of a variety of fruit and veg we should aim to eat each day.

Does baked fruit count towards my daily fruit and veg portions, even with added sugar and brandy?

Cooked fruit can count towards your five portions of fruit and veg, whether it is baked, poached or stewed. A baked apple, poached pear, or three heaped tablespoons of stewed fruit would count as a portion.

You will still get the benefit of the fruit if you add sugar and brandy, but remember, for a healthy diet, you should try not to have too much sugar or alcohol.

Fresh, frozen, dried and tinned fruit and veg all count towards your five portions. And fruit and vegetable juice can count as a maximum of one portion a day.

To get the most benefit from your daily portions you should try to eat as wide a variety of fruit and veg as possible.

What nutrients are found in aubergines?

Aubergines contain a range of B vitamins, plus potassium, iron and zinc. They are also quite a good source of fibre.

Baked aubergines are a healthy choice because they are low in fat and calories. But when aubergines are fried they can absorb lots of cooking fat, which makes them much higher in fat and calories. If you are frying them, choose an unsaturated oil, such as sunflower or olive oil, rather than butter or ghee, and try to use only a small amount.

One-third of an aubergine counts as one of the five portions of fruit and veg we should aim to eat each day. Remember, it's best to eat a variety of types.

Does coconut count towards my fruit and veg portions?

Coconut is actually part of a fruit, but nutritionally it's classified as a nut because of how it's usually eaten, and also because it contains similar nutrients to nuts. So it doesn't count towards your fruit and veg portions.

Coconut is a good source of protein and some vitamins and minerals, and it's OK to eat it as part of a healthy balanced diet. However, coconut milk and coconut cream are high in saturated fat, so it's better to eat foods that contain these in small amounts. Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol and increase the chances of developing heart disease.

We should all try to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, for good health. Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced fruit and veg all count, but juice counts as a maximum of one portion a day.

Where did the recommendation to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day come from?

The advice to eat a specific quantity of fruit and veg originally came from the World Health Organization (WHO), which is an agency of the United Nations that specialises in health.

In 1991, the WHO started recommending a minimum intake of 400g fruit and vegetables a day. One portion of fruit and veg is 80g, so five portions add up to 400g.

The WHO advice is based on many different studies. These have shown consistently that populations that have a high intake of fruit and veg have a lower incidence of heart disease, some cancers and other health problems.

The WHO recommendation has been adopted by many national and international expert groups.

In 1994, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA), which advises the UK Government, examined the links between diet and heart disease. COMA concluded that fruit and veg help to protect against heart disease, and that people in the UK should increase the amount they eat to at least five portions a day.

In the UK, we eat an average of just three portions of fruit and veg a day. So we should try to increase the amount of fruit and veg we eat, to help benefit our health.

Does fruit in jelly count as a portion of fruit and veg?

Fruit in jelly can count towards the five portions of fruit and veg we should try to eat each day. To count as one portion, you need to include enough fruit in each serving, for example:

  • 2 satsumas, plums or apricots
  • 1 handful of grapes, cherries or berries
  • 1 banana
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of fruit salad
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of tinned peaches, pineapple or other tinned fruit
Setting fruit in jelly can be a good way to encourage children to eat more fruit. Fresh, frozen and tinned fruit all count towards their daily portions. Try to use reduced-sugar jellies when you can.

Do pulses and baked beans count towards my daily fruit and veg portions?

Beans and pulses can count towards the five portions of fruit and veg we should aim to eat each day, but they can only make up a maximum of one portion a day.

You need to eat three heaped tablespoons of pulses or beans to make up one portion.

Pulses and beans are a good source of protein and they are rich in fibre. They also contain iron, but they don't provide much of vitamins A, C or E. We need to eat a variety of fruit and veg to make sure that we get these and other important nutrients.

Tinned baked beans can be high in sugar and salt, so try to choose low-sugar, low-salt varieties when you can. If you buy tinned pulses, choose those without added salt if possible.

Can I get all my daily fruit and veg portions from juice?

Drinking juice isn't enough on its own to make up the five daily fruit and veg portions we should all aim for. A glass of fruit and/or vegetable juice (150ml) counts as a portion of fruit and veg, but juice can't make up more than one portion a day, however much you drink.

This is because you don't get the same nutritional benefits from juice as you get from whole fruit and veg. When juice is extracted from the whole fruit or vegetable, it reduces the fibre content and releases a type of sugar from the fruit or veg that can damage teeth, especially if you drink it frequently.

This is why it's better, particularly for children, to keep fruit juice to mealtimes and stick to either milk or water between meals.

Variety is one of the keys to a healthy balanced diet, and this applies just as much to the fruit and veg you eat. The more types of whole fruit and veg you can include the better, because different fruit and veg contain different nutrients. And including a range of colours, flavours and textures can help make food more interesting and enjoyable.

We should all be aiming to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day. Fresh, frozen, tinned and dried varieties can all count towards your daily portions. Remember, juice only counts as a fruit and veg portion if it's 100% juice. It still counts if it's made from concentrate, pasteurised or long life. But squash and 'juice drinks' don't count because they also contain water and added sugar.

Do olives count towards the five portions of fruit and veg we should eat each day?

All types of fruit and vegetables, whether they are fresh, chilled, frozen, canned, bottled or dried, count towards our daily portions.

A portion is about 80 grams of fruit or vegetables - when you've removed all the bits you can't eat such as inedible peel or stones.

Olives are the fruit of the olive tree and contain fibre as well as some vitamins and minerals. However, because olives are quite small and weigh very little, you would need to eat about 30 olives to get a portion!

It's better to eat olives in small quantities because they are generally high in salt. And we should all avoid eating too much salt. This is because salt contains sodium, and having too much sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

So olives can count towards a portion. For example, you could eat a few olives as part of a dessert-sized bowl of mixed salad - together this counts as one portion. Or if you eat them as part of a pizza topping with two to three tablespoonfuls of vegetables - such as mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes - this would count as a portion too.

Are raisins a healthy snack or do they contain too much sugar?

Dried fruit, including raisins, is a healthy choice if you want a snack because it's full of fibre and vitamins and counts towards your daily fruit and veg portions. Prunes and dried apricots contain beta-carotene, while figs, prunes, raisins, sultanas and dried apricots are good sources of iron. But dried fruit doesn't contain vitamin C.

All fruit contains sugar, but the type of sugar in fruit is less harmful to teeth than the added sugars you find in sweets, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, honey, fruit juice and processed foods.

If you're concerned about the amount of sugar in your diet, you might want to cut down on these types of foods. And it's better for your teeth to have them at mealtimes rather than between meals.

The amount of sugar varies depending on the type of fruit. Dried fruit contains more sugar than the same weight of non-dried fruit because the water has been removed. For the same reason, a portion of dried fruit is smaller than a portion of fresh fruit.

Half to one tablespoon of raisins counts as one portion of fruit and veg.

Other healthy snacks include fresh fruit such as bananas, oranges and apples; raw vegetables such as sticks of carrot, celery and cucumber; low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais; currant buns without icing, scones or teacakes.

I like plums and pears. Are they good for me?

All fruit and veg are good for you, so it's fine to eat the ones you like. We should all aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, whether they are fresh, tinned, frozen, dried or juiced (but juice counts as just one portion a day). Eating plenty of fruit and veg could reduce your chances of developing coronary heart disease and some cancers.

Each pear, banana or apple counts as one portion. Since plums are smaller, you need two to make up a portion. Pears and plums provide a range of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin E and carotene. Pears are also a good source of dietary fibre.

It's better to eat as wide a variety of fruit and veg as you can. Ideally, your five portions should be made up of five different types of fruit and veg. (But remember that potatoes are classed as starchy foods, so they don't count towards your five portions.)

So, you can still eat your favourites, but it's a good idea to experiment with new things. Here are a few easy ways to increase the amount of fruit and veg you eat:

  • Add some berries to your breakfast cereal (a handful is one portion).
  • Drink a glass of orange juice with a meal (150ml is one portion, and this will help you absorb iron from your food too).
  • Snack on raisins (half to one tablespoon makes a portion).
  • Eat melon as a starter (one large slice makes a portion).
  • Make pasta sauces with tomatoes and chopped peppers (two to three tablespoons of veg make one portion).
  • Add some spinach, mushrooms, peas or broccoli to risotto, curry or pasta dishes (two to three tablespoons of veg make one portion).
  • Eat a side salad with a meal (one dessert bowl counts as a portion).

Can you get calcium from carrot juice?

Yes, carrots do contain some calcium, but there are much better sources of this mineral. A glass of carrot juice (150ml) would typically contain about 24 milligrams of calcium (when no water or other juices are added).

A glass of carrot juice counts as one portion of fruit and veg. We should all be aiming to have at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day, to benefit our health. But remember, fruit or vegetable juice counts as just one portion a day, however much you drink.

The richest vegetable sources of calcium are curly kale, okra, horseradish and watercress. You can also get significant amounts from red kidney beans, soya beans, petit pois, broccoli, cabbage, celery and parsnips.

Other good sources of calcium include milk and dairy products, canned sardines and salmon (when the bones are eaten), sultanas bread and tofu. You can buy calcium-enriched soya drinks, and some breakfast cereals contain added calcium too.

Calcium is essential for building healthy bones and teeth. It is needed for muscles (including the heart muscle) to contract and relax properly, and for nerves to work well. It is also vital for normal clotting of the blood.

Are the green parts of tomatoes poisonous?

Food contains many natural chemicals that are essential to our health, such as vitamins and minerals. But some foods also contain potentially harmful substances called natural toxins (poisons).

Unripe green tomatoes can contain glycoalkaloids, which are natural toxins that can irritate the gastrointestinal tract. This could cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea.

High levels of glycoalkaloids in tomatoes are associated with a bitter taste. So, if a tomato doesn't look ripe or tastes unusually bitter, it's best not to eat it. These toxins aren't present in ripe red tomatoes.

Is it true that potatoes don't count towards my daily fruit and veg portions?

Of course potatoes are a vegetable, but they don't count towards our daily fruit and veg portions.

This is because the main nutrient in potatoes is carbohydrate (starch). Also when we eat them as part of a meal they are generally used in place of other sources of carbohydrate/starch, such as bread, pasta or rice. So they are classified as a starchy food rather than a vegetable. Other vegetables that don't count towards our five a day are yams, cassava and plantain, when they are eaten as a starchy food.

However, other root vegetables, such as parsnips, swedes and turnips, are usually eaten as well as the main starchy food in a meal. So they can count towards our fruit and veg portions.

Three heaped tablespoons of root veg make up one portion. We should all aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day.

Potatoes are a great choice as a starchy food. They are a good source of energy, fibre, B vitamins and potassium. And although potatoes don’t contain much vitamin C compared to other vegetables, in Britain we get a lot of our daily vitamin C from them because we eat so many of them.

Why are greens good for me?

There are lots of different kinds of 'greens'. As well as spring greens and spinach, there are also all the green leafy vegetables such as:

  • lettuce
  • cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • kale
  • watercress
  • parsley
  • fennel
Like all vegetables, green leafy vegetables are really good sources of nutrients that help to protect us from disease and keep us healthy.

Green vegetables are rich in vitamin C, folates, carotenoids, vitamin K, and calcium, and may also provide small amounts of iron. (Spinach isn't a good source of calcium because it contains a substance that stops our bodies absorbing it.) Eating plenty of fruit and veg can help protect us against heart disease and cancer, as well as keeping our bodies in good working order. So, we should try to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.

Are green bits on potatoes bad for you?

It's best to avoid eating any green bits on potatoes. This is because they can contain high levels of natural toxins called glycoalkaloids.

Glycoalkaloids are usually found in potatoes at low levels. But they can be higher in:
  • green parts
  • damaged parts
  • sprouted parts
High levels of glycoalkaloids can upset the digestive system and cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. But glycoalkaloid poisoning is extremely rare, even though potatoes are eaten in very large amounts in many countries.

To avoid high levels of glycoalkaloids being produced in potatoes, store them in a dark, cool and dry place. And remember not to eat any damaged, green or sprouted parts. If potatoes still taste bitter after you've removed these bits, it's better not to eat them, because they could contain high levels of glycoalkaloids.

I have recently seen a list of edible flowers that includes Scotch Broom. I was always under the impression that this shrub was poisonous. Would it be safe to use its yellow petals in a salad?

Plants from the broom family contain a number of natural toxins, which are poisonous. Some of these toxins are glycoalkaloids, which cause symptoms of gastrointestinal illness. Glycoalkaloids are found in the twigs, leaves and seeds of the broom plant and should not be eaten.

There is very little information available on whether broom flowers are toxic. However, since other parts of the shrub are toxic, it would be advisable to avoid eating the flowers.

Many flowering plants are known to contain a number of natural toxins. But scientific information on edible flowers is limited, so we can't give specific advice on which flowers can and can't be eaten.

Remember, you shouldn't eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centres, because they may have been treated with pesticides that are not suitable for human consumption.

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