An apple a day: Is it time for GPs to prescribe fruit and veg?

·3 min read

Watch this: New report states GPs should prescribe fruit and vegetables to encourage healthy eating

NHS doctors should be able to 'prescribe' fruit and vegetables, according to a new independent report published by England's National Food Strategy.

The review also suggested that sugar and salt should be taxed, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to study the report and respond with proposals for future laws within six months.

We all know that the NHS recommends eating at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. But why are fruit and veg so important? And could GPs being able to prescribe them really make the nation any healthier?

Should your GP be able to prescribe you fruit and veg? (Getty Images)
Should your GP be able to prescribe you fruit and veg? (Getty Images)

The World Health Organisation recommends eating at least 400g of fruit and vegetables a day (that's roughly equivalent to five portions) to lower the risk of major health problems including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

Read more: 5-a-day should be two fruits and three vegetables, study suggests

Fruit and vegetables are also a good source of an important range of vitamins and minerals, especially if we eat a wide variety - it's no good eating five aubergines, or five bananas, for example, every day.

They're also a great way to increase dietary fibre, which can help to maintain a healthy gut, and reduce your risk of bowel cancer in particular. Fruit and vegetables also tend to be low in fat and calories, so by making them a key part of your daily diet it can be easier to maintain a healthy weight.

"Fruit and vegetables provide the minerals and vitamins needed for our body to function correctly. These include vitamin C, micronutrients such as potassium and an abundance of antioxidants," Lisa Simon, a registered dietician at Plant Based Health Professionals who also works for the NHS, told Yahoo.

"They are a good source of fibre and help maintain a healthy gut microbiome which is so important as currently only one in ten UK adults is meeting the UK recommended daily allowance for fibre. We should be aiming to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day.

This can include a piece of fruit, a salad or carrot sticks as snacks. There are benefits to eating more servings than this too!"

Despite all the advantages that fruit and vegetables give us, many people in the UK don't eat anywhere near enough of them. Poor diet contributes to 64,000 deaths a year in England alone, according to the National Food Strategy's report, and costs the economy £74bn a year. In fact, the review revealed that more than half of over-45s now live with diet-related health conditions.

Sadly, many disadvantaged families feel they can't afford to eat enough fruit and vegetables - and the new report even found that highly processed foods are three times cheaper than healthy food, calorie for calorie.

Read more: Eating more fruit and veg lowers risk of memory loss

So could the report's proposed "Community Eatwell" programme, in which GPs could prescribe fruit and vegetables to people with poor diets and low incomes, really help?

Improving access to fresh fruit and veg might improve the nation's health (Getty Images)
Improving access to fresh fruit and veg might improve the nation's health (Getty Images)

Simon warmly welcomes the proposal - but emphasises that it's not a magic cure-all.

"Prescribing fruit and vegetables to patients could save the NHS a lot of money in unnecessary or ongoing treatments, but only alongside other lifestyle changes and in conjunction with conventional treatments - it's not one or the other," she said.

"It will also make it easier for everyone to access fruits and vegetables, the healthiest foods on the planet. Currently, in many cases, ultra-processed foods or budget meat often works out cheaper to feed a family. Plus, processed foods last longer than fresh vegetables, which families cannot afford to waste.

Prescribing fruit and vegetables might not only make them more accessible, but highlight the benefits of eating them - especially to the next generation. Nutrition education is incredibly important, and eating the right foods can help tackle growing health problems including type 2 diabetes and obesity."