I love fruit, but I do not eat it regularly. I am not the only one caught in this incongruity: according to the Spanish government, each Spaniard eats an average of 13.29 kilos of fruit and vegetables per year – a measly 36.4 grams a day (equal to a small plum). After analysing this fact conscientiously for five long minutes, I have come to the conclusion that fruit, although delicious, resists us due to an accumulation of catastrophic misfortunes.
Going to buy fruit is an ordeal. In most supermarkets, buying these products takes time. You have to wear uncomfortable gloves, search through crates, select the fruits, bag them and weigh them. When we eat out, we automatically reject fruits, claiming that we consume them at home (a lie!) and we prefer to escape the routine by choosing a cake that was made in an industrial estate.
Mixed feelings also apply to vegetables. Although I cannot detect the intense taste that they are said to have, I consume vegetables to a certain extent given their suitability as a side dish to meat or fish, or in the form of salads.
But it seems that we are falling short, and much more than we might think. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) had established that 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day was the healthiest measure, a comprehensive review of 95 studies conducted by Imperial College London has set the bar even higher. It maintains that in relation to heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality from all causes (including cancer), “the lowest risk was observed with a consumption of 800 grams per day (10 servings per day)”. How much is a ration? According to the WHO , an orange, a banana, two kiwis, two plums, or a slice of melon or pineapple (similar proportions apply for vegetables).
To find out if 10 servings a day of these foods fall within what is humanly reasonable or, on the contrary, make one end up abhorring everything that grows on the ground or hangs from a tree, ICON asked me to try the diet in my own meals for only five days. This is the result. After that time, I asked Dr Juan José López Gómez of the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition (SEEN) to make a general assessment of my challenge.
Day 0: My fridge explodes with 4 kilos of fruit and vegies
I buy. I go through the torturous process of the bags, the gloves, the crates and the weighing. I return to my home, dragging four kilos of fruit and vegetables. First dilemma: where do I keep my haul? Since there is no space in the fridge, I leave it at room temperature. In fact, I decide that inside the shopping bag will be good. To my surprise, my partner tells me that if I do not keep it in the fridge it will spoil.
He tells me that I should have made several small purchases instead of one large one. I respond magnanimously that in the supermarket these products are stored in the open air: I have seen it with my own eyes! “But they renew them constantly,” he informs me. I examine the inside of the bag and decide that strawberries, plums, pears and grapes are the most susceptible to getting ugly (not so much pineapple, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, bananas and kiwis), so I make as much room as I can in the fridge. There I leave them, with no more collateral damage than a package of yogurts for my daughters, squashed when they are stomped on the floor.
Day 1: My body is no longer a clock
Encouraged by the challenge, I step on the scale as soon as I get up. The result is so unexpectedly frightening that I am about to throw in the towel (out of respect for the reader, I will not share the resulting figure). Even so, I draw strength from weakness (I tell myself that maybe it is due to the copious stew of the previous day) and I face the first breakfast.
I select an orange, two kiwis and a plum. Since my usual option is a coffee with milk, two toasts with extra virgin olive oil, and a glass of bottled orange juice (and, in recent times, a Danacol), I have the feeling of being at the breakfast buffet. I have to eliminate something: do I discard the toast? No, because virgin olive oil is at least as healthy as fruit. I’m slow to realise that it’s the orange juice that should be omitted, if I’m going to eat a real orange. When I finish, I feel satiated, and 20 minutes later I go with the usual punctuality to my reading time in the bathroom.
Unexpected effect: an hour later, while driving quietly on the way to the newsroom, the urge to go to the bathroom returns in a furious way – something unusual in those whose bodies work like a clock. Unfortunately, I will arrive just in time for a meeting and I will not have time to make a strategic stop to the bathroom. For the sake of my inner self, I denounce the combination of kiwi and plum. The meeting lasts longer than expected, and when I finally get rid of the discomfort it is 11:30am.
Mid-morning snack time: two tangerines. For lunch, I have a salad with turkey and a banana. In the afternoon, I feel more energetic; or maybe it is the power of suggestion. I forget the mid-afternoon snack and it is almost 8pm when I turn to the two tangerines provided. For dinner, grilled chicken fillet with a lush mixed salad, followed by a good bowl of strawberries with skimmed milk cheese. While trying to swallow the last pieces, I realise that I have not taken a drop of alcohol throughout the day. Who knows if this was inspired by my temporary commitment to healthy living?
Day 2: Hamburger with artichokes? Yes you can
My scale is broken: it insists that I weigh 800 grams less than I did yesterday (which is exactly the amount of fruit and vegetables that I have had). Encouraged by the news, I incorporate into my breakfast, in addition to a banana, the treacherous combination from yesterday: two kiwis and one plum (plus coffee, toast and Danacol). The preparations are so many that I burn the toast.
Before leaving home, I cut the pineapple – for which I am already salivating – for dinner and I delight in tasting a couple of pieces. Midmorning, the two tangerines. Lunch includes a pasta salad with salmon and an avocado, followed by a bunch of grapes. In the middle of the afternoon, a little tired of so much tangerine, I eat a very good pear. For dinner, after a blessed hamburger with artichokes and ham strips, I devour half a pineapple. Zero alcohol.
Day 3: Enter into crisis mode
Today I plan to eat out, which could cause my plan to falter. For breakfast, I opt for a banana and two grapefruits as an accompaniment to coffee and everything else. Honestly, I cannot manage the banana. Have I entered into a crisis? In the middle of the morning, I enjoy the postponed banana. Later, in the bar-restaurant with the menu of the day, I choose everything from the field I can: some artichokes with ham and a chicken burrito with something that wants to look like a Mexican mix of vegetables (peppers, tomatoes and jalapeños). Orange for dessert.
On a normal day, the words “scrambled eggs with bacon”, written in bold calligraphy on the menu, would have attracted me inexorably, but now I see the demon in them. In the afternoon, I forget about my friends the tangerines, into which I sink my teeth when I get home at around 8pm. For dinner, sausages with salad and what was left of yesterday’s pineapple.
Day 4: Open the fridge, throw in the meat
Working from home – like today – is a marvel from the nutritional point of view. My dwindling collection of fruits and vegetables is available all day at my fingertips. Here’s what goes into my mouth throughout the day: two pears and a bowl of strawberries (breakfast), a banana (mid-morning), a salad of tomatoes and mozzarella with a grapefruit and two kiwis (lunch), two oranges and two plums (mid-afternoon), a mixed salad and a bowl of strawberries with whipped cream cheese (dinner). The scale seems to have fixed itself: it now gives me a weight that is very similar to that on the first day (I liked it more when it was broken). Even though the pecking between meals has become healthy, before dinner I open the fridge and try all the salty things I can find: olives, slices of salami, ham. Maybe it’s that so much sugar is crying out for the same amount of salt?
Day 5: Only 300 grams?
I arrive at day five – fortunately, the last one. A banana and two tangerines (breakfast), another banana (mid-morning), grilled salmon with mixed salad, two kiwis and a grapefruit, two pears (mid-afternoon), and green beans and a bunch of grapes (dinner). The next morning, I weigh myself: 300 grams less than on the first day. It does not seem significant, but at least I have not gained weight.
My conclusions: I’m pretty sure I could not keep up this diet much longer – nor could anyone else. The nutritionist says that this has already started to affect my mental balance. And, even so, when I go back to the supermarket, I catch myself taking the gloves and filling the happy bags of bananas, oranges… (although in smaller quantity). In the following days, I incorporate fruit for breakfast and mid-morning snack.
Nutritionist’s assessment. I tell my diet of five days to Dr Gómez, who tells me: “The recommendation that we usually make of fruit and vegetables in the Mediterranean diet is of five servings a day (three of fruit and two of vegetables). The study of the Imperial College London (10 pieces a day) I find tremendously interesting because of the theme and the exhaustiveness, but we must make a correct interpretation of it. First, these researchers consider a serving of fruit or vegetables as 80g, which is not the same as a piece of fruit (a medium orange can weigh between 100g and 200g).” Dr Gómez explains that the consumption of 10 servings of fruit and vegetables could reduce or eliminate the consumption of other foods with important nutrients (such as dairy products, legumes, and animal proteins), which can lead to weight gain. Simply introducing a piece of fruit at breakfast, another mid-morning and a third at one of the other two meals, plus two servings of vegetables, would achieve the WHO’s recommended servings of fruit and vegetables.