How Reliable Are 5-A-Day Food Labels?

Eating five portions of fruit or vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet, but 5-a-day food labels are not always as reliable as you may think.

Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, and by now, most of us should be familiar with the 5-a-day campaign. Launched in 2003, the campaign encourages people to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day and is based on official advice from the World Health Organisation.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can have significant health benefits, helping to decrease the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers, as well as helping people to lead all-round healthier lifestyles.

With this in mind, making sure we all eat our 5-a-day sounds like somewhat of a no-brainer. However, while it may sound straightforward in theory, in practice there is often confusion and misinformation around what constitutes one serving of fruit or vegetables. And although many food labels indicate the number of servings contained in the product, this is not always a reliable source of information.

Government scheme

The official government 5-a-day logo can be used on fresh, dried, tinned or frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as on fruit juices and smoothies. However, there are restrictions. Under the scheme, no product can claim to contain more than two servings of your 5-a-day, and if it does purport to contain two servings, these must be from at least two different vegetables or fruits. The rules are slightly different for juice and smoothies, which can only claim to provide one portion of your 5-a-day.

While the official 5-a-day logo can be a useful guide, it can’t be used on ready meals or on foods where fruit or vegetables are combined with other ingredients. For these types of products, manufacturers will often make their own claims, which is where problems and misconceptions can arise.

Misleading claims

If manufacturers follow industry best practice guidelines for 5-a-day claims, they need to ensure that one serving of its product contains at least 80g of fruit and / or vegetables. Similarly to the government scheme, those products claiming to contain two servings of your 5-a-day also need to contain two or more different vegetables or fruit.

However, these are best practice guidelines rather than hard and fast rules, and it’s up to manufacturers whether they follow them or not. In reality this means that it can be difficult to know how many of your 5-a-day your food actually contains.

Even in cases where a product definitely contains at least one recognised serving of fruit or vegetables, this doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy choice. In many instances, particularly in regards to ready meals and other convenience foods, the health benefits offered by the fruit or vegetable content is cancelled out by high levels of salt, sugar or saturated fat.

Read the label

These issues can all make reaching your 5-a-day target more confusing than it needs to be, which is why it’s important to not take claims at face value and to always read product labels carefully. The ingredient list (and the order in which items appear in this list), as well as the product’s nutritional content will all help to give you a more rounded picture of how healthy a product may or may not be.

Of course, the easiest way for people to make sure they are getting their 5-a-day is to eat plenty of fresh produce. However, where this is not possible, informative food labels which make truthful and reliable claims can go a long way towards enabling people to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.