LONDON- It was with a heavy heart, and some panic, that Britons digested new advice this week that their struggle to eat enough fruit and vegetables had just got harder.
Over the past decade, Britain has absorbed if not adopted the idea of five a day, the target endorsed by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) for a healthy, balanced diet.
But now researchers at University College London (UCL) have advised this should be increased to at least seven to cut the risk of death from cancer or heart disease.
The recommendation is directly aimed at Britain, which has one of the highest rates of heart disease in Europe, a fact blamed in part on a diet high in fat and sugar.
Questions have been raised about the results but they have sparked a flurry of debate in a land which, while no longer fueled by sausages and chips, still has some way to go.
Only around a quarter of adults currently manage five a day, according to National Health Service (NHS) data, while other research puts the figure at one in 10.
“Are they having a laugh?” wrote one newspaper commentator in response to the UCL results, echoing people around the country as they surveyed the dismal contents of their fridges.
“I can’t even do five a day, let alone seven. It’s an early grave for me,” said one woman on popular parenting website Mumsnet, where the issue was trending this week.
Another added, with an air of fatalism: “I don’t much like fruit, my daughter doesn’t much like veg. My husband likes doughnuts.”
For all Britain’s top restaurants, the celebrity chefs and television cooking programmes on virtual loop, Britons have firm tastes — and they are not for fruit and vegetables.
The nation eats 6.4 billion sandwiches and consumes ready meals on 1.6 billion occasions every year, according to a recent survey by research group Kantar Worldpanel.
Add to that more than 1.1 billion pizzas, 1.6 billion pies and pasties, 1.5 billion roast dinners, 578 million bowls of spaghetti bolognese and 308 million plates of lasagne, and the national picture is clear.