/ Food & Drink, Health

Can we trust foods that claim to provide one of our five-a-day?

Do you get your five-a-day with fresh fruit and vegetables or ready meals? Do you think a processed meal counts towards your recommended intake? With a lack of government clarity on the issue, it’s difficult to know.

As the government has yet to specify the criteria for when foods are allowed to carry five-a-day claims it’s left up to food manufacturers to decide whether the food you’re eating should carry a claim or not.

The official grocery group – the Institute of Grocery Distribution – has put together guidance for its members on the issue, but this means a product can show the five-a-day logo even if it’s only half a portion’s worth.

Half marks for half portions

At Which?, we think products should have to contain at least one portion of fruit or veg to get the stamp of approval. We also want robust criteria for how much fat, sugar or salt it can contain if it’s going to be promoted as good for you and stamped with a five-a day logo.

We’ve shared these differences of opinion with the Department of Health, but it has yet to come back to us with a set of official criteria for what counts.

Until the government decides, it appears it’s down to food manufacturers to call the shots. But do you trust food companies to decide what counts towards your quota?

Off to the chopping board

Although I appreciate that some ready meals count towards your fruit and veg intake, I personally prefer to get my intake with fresh produce. It’s pretty obvious where you stand with a piece of fresh fruit or veg.

But that’s not where the confusion lies; we need to know if products that market themselves as ‘healthy’ for containing one or two of your five-day really do cut the mustard.

A discussion thread on the NHS website shows some confusion over what officially counts as fruit and veg, let alone whether it counts as your five-a-day. If we’re struggling with the fresh stuff, what hope have we for prepared meals and takeaways?

BenJie says:
21 June 2012

Charlotte. Will you be publishing the Department of Health response? Is Which considering it’s own five a day logo scheme? I think consumers would welcome a scheme that has your endorsement whether it is your own or endorsing some other such scheme.


Hi BenJie,

We haven’t considered putting together our own 5-a-day logo. From our point of view it is a little too specialist as a campaign and would involve a lot of resources to monitor and ensure manufacturers were using it correctly, resources which we unfortunately don’t have.

If another scheme were to appear that met the criteria we recommended to the Department of Health (the food had to contain one portion of fruit and veg, and to be used on foods that were low in sugar, fat and salt) then we would consider endorsing it in the same way that we have supported and endorsed traffic light labelling.

Of course we want it to be easier for people to eat a balanced diet and to consume fruit and vegetables. But we feel there is a danger in people thinking they can get all their portions from processed food, firstly as it’s not sending the correct healthy eating messages, and secondly because often processed foods are high in sugar, fat and/or salt.

sencit says:
28 June 2012

I would like to know about the quality of fresh food and veg. We are told they do not have as many nutrients as in the past and this is said to be still declining so information on this is vital if we are to know how many portions we need.

Basil says:
21 February 2013

I would appreciate if Which? could compile a database of foods which contribute towards the 5aday, with a focus on ‘value for money’.

I assume a portion of Brussels Sprouts provides one of the 5; 200g (before trimming) costs about 40p these days.

My packet of dried dates says that 3 whole dried dates provide one portion, this probably costs less than 10p.

Oranges cost as much as 50p each (one portion?) – how much orange juice would I need to match this? Or fruit squash?

Obviously the 5aday need to be different, and you would not want the same 5 each day; however it would be helpful to know the best value for money options so that those of us on limited budgets could eat healthily.

Such a database would provide some interesting press releases focusing on nutritional issues in times of austerity.


I think we are getting hung up on the mantra of 5 a day. Most survived pretty well before these edicts were issued. My view is that a common sense balanced diet with fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products together with, if you like, quality ready meals and very limited processed food will keep most people heathy. A cook book and a slow cooker could help a lot of people who have missed out on learning from their parents. Just don’t live on processed and cheap junk food – you can’ be sure what its origins are.


We talk a lot about the problems of eating processed food but I wonder if this is any worse than the sausages, pies, processed meat, white bread and canned vegetables that many people used to eat. I wonder how many ate five-a-day fifty years ago. At least obesity was less of a problem in these days.

I think about fruit and veg when I do the shopping rather than on a daily basis. It’s easy for me because I’m single and I eat what I buy. Like Malcolm, I try to have a balanced diet but know enough to be aware that it does not matter if each meal or even each day is balanced, as long as overall my diet is reasonably balanced. Having said that, I think the five-a-day guideline is useful to provide us with an idea of how much fruit and veg we should be eating.