On fruit and wine and coming up trumps

‘I had my ten a day today,’ said the Gremlin, reeling off what I can only describe as a shopping list of mainly fruit with little else to slow its passage through his guts.

<Gremlin rolls eyes as I read this out to him>

We’ve been monitoring the situation closely, you see, for the last couple of weeks – our fruit and veg intake that is, not the Gremlin’s guts – and suffice to say, this was the first and only time either of us have managed to hit the ten-a-day target since some university wonk with too much time on his or her hands raised the salad bar.

I mean. Ten a day? They were kidding, right? Ten portions of fruit and veg. Every day. Relentlessly. TEN? 

Could it really be coincidence, barely two weeks after ‘unavailability issues’ threatened to remove fruit and veg from our diets entirely, that researchers at Imperial College London upped the daily recommendation to ten portions, potentially cutting premature deaths by a massive 31%?

I wasn’t convinced the last time round – even for the few hours before noon on 1 April 2014 – when Dr Oyinlola Oyebode (whose name I feel sure is an anagram of something witty, I just haven’t worked it out yet), announced that ten was the new five – despite her evangelical promise that ‘the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age’.  And I’m not convinced now.

Just four months ago, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, recently appointed chair of the Royal College of GPs, thought ‘people may struggle with five’, that two portions might be more ‘realistic’.

But no, they’re going for ten.

‘Throw an extra stick of celery into the pot’, ran one helpful tip. ‘Add in a few chopped mushrooms’, patronised another – the attractiveness of either depending entirely, I would suggest, on what else you have in the pot at the time.

A ‘portion’, by the way, weighs in at 80 grams. So 800 grams in total! 

Okay, if you’re a ‘veggie’, it’s possible – because you’ll have a big empty metaphoric space on your plate where the meat or fish might be on mine. But, quite possibly (I await the squeals of denial), you’ll fill that big empty space not with more vegetables but with cheese. Lots of cheese. Which brings its own problems, digestively speaking. Believe me. I know.

But let’s suppose you’re not a veggie. You eat meat. You eat fish. But you will happily eat your way through any if not all of the fruit and veg on display at your greengrocer of choice. You also like to ring the changes every now and then in the ‘mopping up the sauce’ department: potatoes one day, rice or quinoa next (other on-trend seeds and grains are available). Bread even. You eat cheese and yoghurt and drink milk and like a slice of buttered toast or a bowl of something oat-based in the morning. I mention all these because all these add up when it comes to weighing out those portions.

Let’s say, for example, you’re happy to eat an apple with your breakfast porridge, a banana with lunch and an orange after dinner, that still leaves seven portions to chuck at the plate. Plus the odd serving of rice or protein (the nature, weight and digestibility of which will largely depend on whether you like your food to have eyes or not and, if so, what size of eyes). And let’s not forget that chunk of bread. 

Now as it happens, the Gremlin and I eat quite a lot of veg and fruit, and I regularly munch on a handful of nuts mid-afternoon (steady) and – my favourite – Medjool dates. So we got the scales out. 

Turns out that stick of celery weighs in at around 39 grams so, technically speaking, you’d need to throw two in the pot – per person – for a portion each.

That breakfast apple, lunchtime banana and after-dinner orange come in at around 400 grams once peeled. Add the handful of nuts – which I gather from Mr Google is typically about 28 grams (about 23 almonds, 14 walnut halves, or 21 hazelnuts) – plus a couple of juicy Medjool dates (another 48 grams), and already you’re up to 476 grams. Only another 324 grams to go…

There’s always the juicing option, of course, by which – if your wallet allows – you can squeeze huge piles of fruit and vegetables into a single, palatable glassful. I note that ‘Juice Master’ Jason Vale weighed in, ‘wanting to scream’ at the on-screen debunking of juicing by This Morning‘s Dr Chris. But he does, albeit unwittingly, appear to echo my thoughts.

‘I personally wouldn’t eat ten portions of raw fruit and veg a day,’ he says, ‘but I find juicing them really easy’, adding that ‘you should stick to what works for you’.

I should perhaps also say at this point that Mr Vale’s book resides on our ‘cookery’ bookshelf alongside Delia, Jamie and Nigella, Mrs Beeton circa 1923 and a Cordon Bleu collection dating back to 1980-something. Amongst others.

And I have a number of friends who swear by their juicing habits. However, last year, during what can only be called an extreme juicing phase on the Gremlin’s part, our weekly shop just about doubled – with his waistline in hot pursuit. Quite possibly, he readily admits, because he continued eating everything else as well!

So, taking Mr Vale at his word, I think we’ll stick to what works for us for now. Some days that might mean three portions of fruit and veg, some days ten. Some days meat, some days fish. And, for the record, some days cake too. And wine. Of course.

Because I think we all know the experts will be changing your minds again soon anyway. Maybe even before April.

Wine of the times

Speaking of wine, slight concern at Strawberry How, recently, when I learned through social media that Saturday 18 February was – wait for it – National Drink Wine Day! What? I can only drink it on one day a year? I’ve been getting this so wrong.

Turns out it’s an American tradition, ‘to spread the love and health benefits of wine’, but I imagine this might be its last year for some time, what with the Man at the Top not being a drinker (in fact, no vices at all, I hear). It’s surely only a matter of time before #45 signs off a constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol? Just because he can.

Not to worry, America, I’m perfectly happy to keep the tradition alive on this side of the pond, you know, till you’re ready to have it back. And not just one day every year. In fact, I’m happy to drink wine considerably more frequently than that.

Turning trumps

And, speaking of Trump (isn’t everyone?), I’m currently reading Trump Revealed, by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher. Described as ‘the definitive biography’, it’s a fascinating portrait of a man who appears to have been born a bully and a braggart, and a book I’d probably never have bothered with had I not been idly browsing Waterstone’s in Carlisle last Thursday.

In fact, I picked up a further three books while I was there. I’d have done the same at an independent bookseller – we have an excellent one with The New Bookshop, here in Cockermouth – had they taken my eye. And, in truth, the name above the door wouldn’t make a difference. I just like to look at – and feel – real books.

But Waterstone’s got themselves in trouble last week, when it was revealed they were setting up bookshops masquerading as independents. Okay, I’m deliberately missing the point, I know, but this is GOOD news isn’t it?

Shouldn’t we be celebrating that new bookshops are opening? Selling real books! Those quaint, old-fashioned thingumajigs, you know, made of paper. You can turn the pages. No swiping or clicking required. You could even fold over the top corner of the page as a place holder if you want to. Although I might have to kill you if I catch you.

It’s not so long ago the digital world thought they held all the trumps in the battle for book sales and wasted no opportunity in telling us so – which doesn’t necessarily make it true (a lesson You Know Who may yet learn) – and Waterstone’s were busy closing stores. 

The truth is that ebook sales fell by 1.6% to to £554m in 2015, the first drop recorded in the last seven years according to the Publishers Association (the latest figures I can find). Meanwhile, sales of printed books grew by 0.4% to £2.76bn.

So I, for one, am celebrating. Now… where’s that wine?

Image: Fruit and books © Cosma. Adobe Stock

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