Carrot, not stick key to eating vegies

21 October 2016

Less than one in ten Australians eats the recommended amount of vegetables and that could be because – with the exception of vegetables such as carrots and spinach – there is a lack of understanding about specific benefits. Research suggests we could get closer to the standard of five serves a day through labelling. 

PhD candidate Reetica Rekhy.

PhD candidate Reetica Rekhy.

Most Australians do not meet World Health Organisation standards for vegetable consumption and now research points to a lack of understanding about the nutritional benefits of the humble vegetable, with health benefit labelling potentially providing the answer.

Although there are some notable exceptions – there was a high awareness about some nutritional benefits of carrots (vision) and spinach (iron/energy) – using the carrot rather than the stick might help more people meet the guidelines of approximately five serves a day, according to research by University of Sydney PhD candidate Reetica Rekhy.

The findings were published this month in Nutrition & Dietetics, by lead author Rekhy under supervision from Professor Robyn McConchie, who is a co-author of the paper.

Ms Rekhy, from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said although almost one in two Australians eat the recommended two serves of fruit daily, her survey of 1000 adults found only 6% of adults consumed the recommended serves of vegetables.

“Just knowing you should eat your vegies has not proven enough. Consumption even in developed countries falls short of the daily intake recommended by the World Health Organisation,” she said.

“It’s possible that with labelling the health benefits of specific vegetables on retail packs, point of sale advertising and other marketing collateral, this could change.”

Ms Rekhy said survey respondents did not have a good understanding about specific nutritional benefits of most vegetables.

Did you know? Benefits include:

1. Carrots: Healthy vision; heart; bones & joints; brain & nervous system; immune system; skin.
2. Broccoli: Healthy bones & joints; brain & nervous system; heart; and immune system.
3. Asparagus: Healthy bones & joints; brain & nervous system; heart; hydrate your body; immune system.

An agri-food professional with 20 years' experience who has just submitted her PhD thesis, Ms Rekhy said the basis for her thesis was the fact that appropriate vegetable consumption was crucial to reduce the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular conditions, cancers and obesity. 

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends people eat two to eight serves of vegetables and legumes each day, based on age, physical activity levels and body size.

One serve of vegetables is about one cup of uncooked or half a cup of cooked or canned vegetables/beans. Potatoes and other starchy tubers are not considered vegetables for the purposes of the requirements but tomatoes, although officially a fruit, are included in the vegetable count.

As part of her work, Ms Rekhy has done a review of the Veggycation website, which includes information for children and adults. National Nutrition Week also has some great tips to help people fit in five serves of vegetables into their day.

Vivienne Reiner

PhD Candidate and Casual Academic
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