Juice and smoothie manufacturers use the idea that drinking their products contributes to the 'five-a-day' dietary recommendation in their marketing. However, Annette Farr found some discrepancy between the claims brands make and official guidance, and believes consumers, who research suggests are already confused about the 'five-a-day' message in general, need clearer and more accurate advice.

Everyone knows about '5-a-day', right? Everyone knows that it means five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, right? Wrong.

Rather alarmingly, since the '5-a-day' message has become an important marketing message for fruit juice producers and is de rigueur on juice packaging, it appears that the nation is thoroughly confused.

According to new research undertaken by Tickbox for Tropicana Smoothies, 66% of the UK population claims to understand the '5-a-day' message and know how to achieve it - but most are actually misinformed. The survey involved questioning 1,347 people. It revealed that 60% of the population wrongly believe that if we eat five pieces of fruit alone and no vegetables we are getting our '5-a-day'; 25% believe that a drink of orange squash qualifies as one portion; 10% believe herbs equal one portion whilst 3% believe that a portion of chips counts as a vegetable.

Of further concern is the admission that many who know how to achieve '5-a-day' are failing to do so, with 36% citing a busy lifestyle as the reason why. Of women, 63% say they feel guilty about not getting enough fruit and vegetables, with one in 10 admitting to a "fruit binge", after eating food they consider less healthy, in an attempt to balance their diet. Furthermore, 25% of women admit buying fruit and vegetables which are then left to go to waste, also provoking a guilty conscience. 

Apparently 20% of men do not care about the '5-a-day' mantra and eat what they like anyway, with one in 10 saying they take vitamin supplements instead of eating their recommended portions. Overall, as many as 13.5% of those surveyed said they believed '5-a-day' to be an unrealistic goal.  

Commenting on the findings, Dr Sarah Schneker, nutritionist and member of the British Nutrition Foundation, says: "It's incredible that there are still so many '5-a-day' myths in existence. This is worrying because achieving the '5-a-day' target is an important component of a healthy lifestyle and reducing risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancer."

Schneker adds: "Once you know what counts, reaching your '5-a-day' is easier than you think, as there are many simple ways to incorporate fruit and vegetables into your diet, such as drinking fruit-based smoothies, or throwing a handful of dried fruits on your breakfast cereal."

Knowledge is power. So let's refer back to UK government guidance on '5-a-day'. The Food Standard Agency (FSA) website states: "Did you know that we should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg every day? You can choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced. But remember that potatoes don't count because they're a starchy food.

"Fruit and veg should make up about a third of the food you eat each day. And it's also important to eat a variety. Five-a-day is a good, achievable target. If you count your portions each day it might help you to increase the amount you eat."

The guidance continues: "One portion equals 80g of any of these: 1 apple, banana, pear, orange or other similar-sized fruit; 2 plums or similar-sized fruit; ½ a grapefruit or avocado; 1 slice of large fruit such as melon or pineapple, 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables (raw, cooked, frozen or tinned); 3 heaped tablespoons of fruit salad (fresh or tinned in fruit juice) or stewed fruit; 1 heaped tablespoon of dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots); 1 handful of grapes, cherries or berries; a dessert bowl of salad; a 150ml glass of fruit juice (however much you drink, fruit juice counts as a maximum of one portion a day)."

There's more, of course, and none of it makes for easy reading. However, so far as soft drinks are concerned the guidance is that "150ml of juice constitutes a maximum of one portion a day".  

Yet, Todd Katz, Tropicana Smoothies' master blender, says: "We initiated this research to  understand the nation's perception of '5-a-day' and how it applies to daily consumption habits, particularly in relation to how smoothies are being use to achieve this goal. In addition to juice, which provides vitamin C, folic acid and minerals such as potassium, Tropicana Smoothies contain crushed fruit which has the added benefit of dietary fibre.  For this reason they can count as two of our daily portion."

Innocent, too, claims a 250ml serving provides two of your '5-a-day' because of the crushed fruit content.

Two, not one? No wonder consumers are confused. The FSA needs to revisit its guidance, liaise with fruit juice manufacturers and deliver a clearer message on how to achieve 5-a-day, and, for goodness sake, make it simple.