Life’s too short to spend every minute chopping and munching
Peel, chop, grate, munch. Peel, chop, grate, munch. From now on, let this be the soundtrack of your life – at least if you want a long one. Scientists have concluded that we need to eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day – twice the current government recommendation – to stave off heart disease, cancer and early death.
Eating any amount of fruit and veg will do you good, say the team at Imperial College London, but 10 a day will make you practically immortal – or at least, knock 31 per cent off your risk of dying prematurely. If everyone on the planet did it, 7.8 million early deaths could be prevented every year.
Just a couple of snags. First: it’s never going to happen. Even if it were possible to grow this much fresh produce without turning the whole world into a giant plastic polytunnel – and even if everyone was suddenly rich enough to afford this daily banquet of cruciferous goodness – there simply isn’t enough time in the day to eat it all.
The rules of fruit-and-veg-eating, as devised by public health experts, are strict. No cheating is allowed. A smoothie can only ever count as one portion per day, no matter how many root vegetables and clods of grass you throw in. Indeed, a “portion” – like a unit of wine – is never quite what you’d expect. It is a measurement seemingly designed to confound intuition and turn food into a mathematical riddle.
One portion equals a single apple, but two satsumas; 14 cherries, but half a grapefruit; two broccoli spears, but three heaped tablespoons of peas. A mere 5cm chunk of watery old cucumber counts as one portion, according to NHS guidelines; yet cooked kale or spinach, supposedly the most super of foods, must be shovelled in by the fistful (or four heaped tablespoons) to have the same effect.
Even if the science behind these “portions” is sound (public health advice tends to lag 10 years behind, especially in matters of nutrition), this is a joyless way to eat. You’d spend half your day calculating your intake, and the rest chewing on it. Peel, chop, grate, munch. I love both cooking and eating, but not full-time. Some of us have jobs to do.
To eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day you need to be either a vegan (a greedy one, at that) or a clean-eating Instagram guru, in which case you at least stand to make some cash from your tireless spiralising. For the rest of us, this kind of dietary goal – however accurate or well-meaning the research behind it – is pointless. Worse: it sets us up for failure and self-reproach.
“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body,” said G K Chesterton, “is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.” Any regime that comes to dominate your thoughts or your daily routine is, as far as I’m concerned, automatically unhealthy.
Food, alcohol, exercise, sex: if you’re thinking about it all the time, you’re probably not doing it right. Eat vegetables because they’re delicious and you’re hungry, not because you have a quota to fill. Living longer isn’t everything; the trick is to live well.
The Telegraph, London
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