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17 surprising sources of fruit and veg that actually count towards your 5-a-day

guacamole, hummus, and pink dip surrounded by veggies and tortilla chips
Unexpected foods that count towards your 5-a-daynata_vkusidey - Getty Images

Ever since we were kids, the familiar ‘5-a-day’ phrase has lived rent-free in our brains (although, guys, apparently the new thing is '30 plants a week'). From ‘an apple a day to keep the doctor away’ to eating enough carrots so that we can ‘see in the dark,’ there’s been tried and tested age-old ploys used to encourage us to ‘eat our greens.’

Now fully-functioning adults (well, kind of), it’s up to us to make sure we incorporate enough fruit and veggies into our diets, and by now, we can probably fairly easily tell the healthy foods from the ‘less healthy’ options. Broccoli and bananas, yes. Excessive amounts of cheese and wine, not so much (although if you need to justify it to yourself after a festive period of over-indulgence, wine is technically made from grapes).

But whether you’re a keen cook looking to try out different recipes with less traditional ‘5-a-day’ ingredients, or your palette is well and truly fed up of peas and carrots, turns out, there’s more surprising sources of fruit and veg that still count. Which means - actually - you might be already getting more of your daily requirements than you realise.

Whether they're boiled, baked, fresh or dried, registered dietitian Ro Huntriss and Registered Nutritionist Uta Boellinger share 15 unexpected contributors to that 5-a-day. Let’s start the year with a health-fuelled attitude…

1. Baked beans

How much? Half a 400g can

Are baked beans one of your 5-a-day? Turns out, yep! Beans are a double whammy of health; not only do they contain tomato sauce, they're made from haricot beans, and pulses like this count as one of your 5-a-day. You'll only get one serving total from a ladleful of Heinz's finest (more like Aldi’s own these days - have you seen the price of Heinz hun?), but that's better than nothing, right? "Pulses are high in fibre, but due to containing fewer vitamins and minerals than other fruit and vegetables, they will not count as more than one of your 5-a-day," says dietitian Huntriss.

Beans on toast for dinner, anyone?

2. Tomato puree

How much? 1 tablespoon

Whether you're whipping up a chilli, bolognese, curry or homemade pizza, who knew this handy little tube actually contributed towards your daily dose of fruit and veg?

"Tomato puree makes a great base for sauces, soups and stews, so is an easy way to up your intake. It’s also an excellent source of lycopene, a natural plant compound which is an excellent antioxidant and has been shown to help reduce cholesterol," nutritionist Boellinger explains.

3. Chickpeas

How much? 3 heaped tablespoons

The humble chickpea is another surprising 5-a-day bonus, although this is before you've whizzed them with heaps of oil or deep-fried them, obviously. "Chickpeas, the key ingredient in hummus and falafel, can count towards your 5-a-day," Huntriss says. "But similar to baked beans, they are considered a pulse. Therefore, if you had a portion of baked beans and chickpeas, this would still only count as one of your 5-a-day."

Yup, sadly no matter how many pulses you eat, it's not going to budge beyond that one portion. But hey, they taste great.

So the next time you’re in the mood for a mid-day snack, why not cut up some raw celery, carrots and cucumber, perfect for dipping into your homemade hummus? Oh, and you’ll be ticking off extra five-a-day portions too thanks to the salad.

mixed raw salad with marinated, tomato, smoked paprika, honey, soy sauce, chickpeas on plate
Westend61 - Getty Images

4. Beansprouts

How much? 2 handfuls

While a Chinese takeaway might not be the healthiest way to get your dose (who can resist a serving of spring rolls with sweet chilli dipping sauce?), beansprouts are an underrated way to boost your daily nutrients (also found in the arguably more healthy option of Thai food).

"Beansprouts are great in stir fries, as well as adding texture and crunch to a huge range of dishes. They're also a great source of many nutrients like vitamin C and fibre," says Boellinger.

5. Olives

How much? 80g (or around 30 olives)

Ever wondered if olives count as one of your five-a-day? If you have, it’s time to get excited. "Olives are often one people forget about but are a nice, tasty way to work towards that 5-a-day," notes Ro. That's because they provide vitamin E and a reasonable dose of fibre. However, Ro warns, "olives are high in salt and if submerged in olive oil can be higher in calories. So for these reasons, keeping to an 80g portion is appropriate." Sad, but noted.

6. Vegetable crisps

How much? 80g in total

Right, this is one we can absolutely get on board with. Complete with that homemade hummus we mentioned earlier. Mmmmm…

To make your own (which is arguably the healthier option), finely chop up some sweet potato, parsnip, and beetroot, and bake on a low heat until dry. You can also do the same to make crispy kale, spread out across a baking tray.

However, if you're adding too much salt or oil then your snack will become slightly less healthy than intended (so just a touch is best!).

7. Mushrooms

How much? 80 grams when fresh

Yes, it's obvious, mushrooms are vegetables (well, technically fungi if you want to go there) but did you know dried mushrooms are one of your 5-a-day too? As Boellinger explains, "Fresh and dried mushrooms are a great way to eat more veg – why not chop them into your bolognese or have them as a side to your scrambled eggs?" She adds that mushrooms are especially great in the winter months (so for now until the foreseeable, basically) as they help to regulate your immune system.

womens hands holding mushrooms
Clover No.7 Photography - Getty Images

8. Sweet potatoes

How much? 80g (a medium sized potato)

Sorry to break it to you, but regular white potatoes are too starchy to count towards 5-a-day totals. But thankfully, their sweet orange cousins are on the list. Huntriss details that “sweet potatoes have a lower starch content than their white counterparts, and are a source of several nutrients including vitamin A and vitamin C.”

So if you are looking to health-ify your carb intake, it might be an idea to swap your usual white mash/wedges/jacket potatoes for the sweet alternative for an easy (and totally delicious) serving of veg?

9. Sandwiches

How much? A large handful of salad, plus 4 cherry tomatoes and 4 slices of cucumber

There’s nothing more fulfilling than a perfectly sculpted sandwich waiting in the office fridge for you to gobble down at lunchtime. A simple joy, yes, but did you also know that popping a nice handful of salad in between two pieces of bread (opt for wholegrain or seedy if you want to keep as healthy as possible) can also count as a portion of your five-a-day?

With the sound of sandwich lovers rejoicing everywhere, you can also go open sandwich vibes and add the ingredients to a slice of toast. All while adding your other favourite toppings and sauces - the options are endless.

10. Raisins

How much? 1 heaped tablespoon

Whether you sprinkle them in your cereal or mix them with a bowl of nuts for a tasty afternoon snack, raisins are a great way to sneak in a boost to your 5-a-day. "Due to dried fruit containing less water, it is more concentrated in nutrients and sugar, so just 30g or a heaped tablespoon constitutes a portion of raisins," explains Huntriss.

11. Onions

How much? 1 medium onion

"Onions form the base of many dishes, so you may forget that they can actually count towards your 5-a-day," points out dietitian Ro. So onions do count as a vegetable, and not just a flavour enhancer. Plus, they're low in calories and a source of fibre. Tick, tick, tick.

One medium onion will cook down quite a bit in dishes like risotto, soup, or pasta sauce, but if it still feels too full-on, go for milder leeks or shallots, which will still help you hit the quota.

assortment of red and yellow onions displayed in wicker tray alongside shallots, leeks and garlic
Lynne Daley - Getty Images

12. Spring onions

How much? ½ a medium onion

Elsewhere in the bulb family, let’s not forget the trusty spring onion as part of your 5-a-day! Not only are they a really great source of vitamin C, but they also help to keep your immune system chugging along smoothly. Which means you’re able to fight off illnesses and flu much easier.

In terms of tasty recipes, the spring onion is as versatile as they come. Whether you whizz them down into a hearty soup, make spring onion pancakes or just grill them with some lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, you’ll be treating your taste buds and your body.

13. Fruit juice

How much? A 150ml glass

When it comes to aiming for that 5-a-day, one thing people do forget about is fruit juice (though err on the side of caution with this).

While Huntriss confirms that fruit juice does contain “many nutrients,” she also reminds us that “it’s higher in sugar.” Which means - in 5-a-day language - stick to “one portion of 150ml, a small glass.”

“That’s all you’ll need,” she says.

14. Guacamole

How much? One serving prepared with half an avocado

Hands up who loves nachos? Okay, so that'll be all of us. But while you’ve probably always thought they’re not the healthiest of snacks (you’d be right in that generic shop bought tortilla chips are packed with salt, plus the excess amounts of cheese we all love to add), one of their major components - aka guacamole - is packed with essential 'good fats.’ This is all thanks to its high percentage of avocado, and a spoonful or two of salsa will provide you with onions too.

"80g avocado will present you with another portion of fruit and veg. Avocado is a unique fruit and is higher in fats and calories than other foods in this group, but the fats within it are healthy and help to protect the heart. They also contain plenty of fibre," explains Huntriss.

You could also make other dips like hummus or tomato salsa… Let’s chip and dip with our veggie crisps, people!

15. Spaghetti hoops

How much? Half a 400g can

It's time to hark back to your childhood with this one (though we have just as much respect if they're still a part of your adult life).

"I love reminding people that spaghetti hoops count towards our 5-a-day, and it’s due to the tomato sauce," says Huntriss. "Spaghetti hoops are fortified with iron and vitamin D which makes them an even better choice."

Ngl, you had me at 'hoops'...

16. Pie toppings

How much? It depends on your topping!

Who doesn’t love a good pie? Hearty, wholesome and the epitome of comfort food, did you know that choosing the right toppings can count as one of your 5-a-day? Like Huntriss mentioned before, regular potatoes are unfortunately out of the question. However, you can get creative with some alternative toppings and swap the stodge for mashed swede, carrot or butternut squash.

All these veggies mash incredibly smoothly, which means you don’t need butter either. And, it tastes just as great, so it’s a win-win, really.

17. Dessert

How much? 80g of fresh, canned, or frozen fruit

Fruit doesn't need to be fresh to count towards your 5-a-day, and you can get inventive with the way you consume it. Frozen berries are especially great for frozen yogurt (fro yo, anyone?), ice pops, fruit compote, or simply added into smoothies. Just grab a spoon and tuck in (or have a refreshing lick).

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