The findings of the nation’s largest fruit-and-vegetable eating survey have been released, and they contain some disturbing data.
The survey, conducted by researchers from CSIRO, revealed that four out of five Australian adults are eating insufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables to meet the current Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Just over half – 51 percent – of Aussie adults typically eat less than the recommended two serves of fruit a day, while nearly two-thirds (66 percent) consume less than the advised five serves of vegetables daily.
The Fruit, Vegetables and Diet Score report, commissioned by Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) and produced by CSIRO, recorded the dietary habits of 145,975 adults nationwide over a period of 18 months over 2015 and 2016. The report was released in mid-April 2017.
Its principal finding is that an alarming 80 percent of Australian adults are less healthy than they think they are.
“Many Aussies believe themselves to be healthy, yet this report shows the majority of those surveyed are not getting all the beneficial nutrients from fruit and vegetables needed for a healthy, balanced diet,” notes Professor Manny Noakes, CSIRO Research Director and co-author of The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.
Tracking Aussies’ fruit-and-vegetable eating habits
People across Australia, in all occupations and weight ranges, were invited to participate in the online survey between May 2015 and October 2016. CSIRO researchers analysed the resulting data to develop a comprehensive picture of the country’s fruit and vegetable consumption.
Women reported slightly greater fruit and vegetable consumption than men: 24 percent met both daily guidelines, compared to just 15 percent of the men surveyed.
Comparing the data by occupation, construction workers and those in the science and programming sectors recorded the poorest fruit-and-vegetable eating habits, while health-industry workers and retirees were the occupational groups most likely to meet the government’s dietary guidelines for fruit and veg intake.
Healthy Diet Score high-flyers eat most fruit and veg
The report also found that a person’s CSIRO Healthy Diet Score, a self-rating tool that measures ‘overall diet quality’ on a scale of zero to 100, correlates positively with fruit and vegetable intake – that is, adults who eat more fruit and vegetables have higher ‘healthy diet’ scores, while those who eat less fruit and veg score lower.
Fruit and veg combat ‘lifestyle-related’ disease
The minimum Australian benchmark for ‘health-promoting’ fruit and vegetable consumption is two palm-sized portions of fruit and five of veg per day. It is based on growing scientific evidence that eating a wide variety of fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables daily helps prevent illness in the short and long term, including most major lifestyle-related diseases.
“Increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat is one of the simplest ways Australians can improve their health and wellbeing today, as well as combat the growing rates of obesity and lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and a third of all cancers,” contends Professor Noakes.
“Diets high in fruit and vegetables have been shown to improve psychological and physical markers of wellbeing,” he says. “In particular, phytochemicals from fruit and vegetables reduce systemic inflammation, which can lead to chronic disease.”
Variety helps increase daily fruit and veg intake
To maintain vitality, support psychological wellbeing and defend against disease, we need to consume more fresh fruit and veg, more often – and we need to eat a greater variety of it.
A key finding of the report is that focusing on variety could help ensure we consume enough fruit and veg every day.
CSIRO suggests returning to the traditional [meat-and] three-veg meal model – or modern variations on the theme. “One simple way to boost your intake is to eat three different types of vegetables with your main evening meal,” Professor Noakes advises.
Fruit and veg repackaged as ‘convenience’ foods
"And with improvements in transportation, packaging, storage, shelf-life and store hours, the ‘inconvenience’ factor can no longer be used as an excuse for forgoing fresh fruit and veg," says HIA CEO John Lloyd.
“Australian growers are adapting to the consumer’s need for convenience by bringing high-quality fresh produce from the farm to the table in ready-to-cook-and-eat packaging,” Lloyd notes, “making it easier for time-poor adults to add more nutritious fruit and vegetables into their diets.”
How healthy is your diet?
To find out how your diet stacks up and whether you are eating enough fruit and vegetables, take a few minutes to complete the CSIRO Healthy Diet Score survey – a free online questionnaire that evaluates the quality of your overall food and drink intake, identifies specific areas of improvement and gives you an individual ‘diet score’ out of 100.
Assess your dietary habits according to the Healthy Diet Score.