Fruit and veg – how much should we really have?

How much ‘fruit and veg’ should we be eating daily? This is a perennial question asked in Australia and in the western world in general. And while there might be varying answers to this question from dietitians and health websites, there’s one overriding general answer: ‘more’.

There’s no doubt that, on average, Australians consume less fruit and veg than they should daily. And disturbingly that amount is trending downwards, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 

The title of an ABS media release from Friday says it all: ‘Australians consuming fewer vegetables, fruit and less milk’. The details of the release reveal the sad truths about our diets in general.

Considering the amount of diet advice and marketing we seem to be bombarded with, this is a very disappointing outcome.

As part of an overall drop in food consumption, vegetables comprised the largest part of the decline. In 2022-23, we consumed 14 grams less in vegetables on average per day than the previous year. The fruit story wasn’t much better, with the ABS data showing a 12 gram per day fall.

Paul Atyeo, ABS health statistics spokesperson, outlined the downward trend. “Each person had 186 grams of vegetables a day in 2022-23, down from 200 grams a day in 2021-22. We also went from eating 150 grams of fruit to 138 grams a day during 2022-23.”

Mr Atyeo said there was also a decline in the consumption of milk products, down from 278 to 267 grams.

A fruit and veg reset – just how much should we be eating?

Beyond the plainly obvious answer of ‘more’, here is the Australian government’s Better Health Channel’s recommended fruit and veg intake advice. “Eat five kinds of vegetable and two kinds of fruit every day for good health.”

This is actually slightly more than recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says adults should consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day excluding starchy vegetables.

That’s five servings combined, not each. So, does that mean we can get away with less than what the Australian government recommends? Not really. You may have missed the two words before “five servings” in the WHO recommendation: “at least”. 

That’s not to say you won’t have a healthy life by averaging five fruit and veg servings per day combined. If you’re currently having fewer than five servings of fruit and veg, switching to five will most likely benefit you. 

But the Better Health Channel’s recommendation could provide even further health benefits. 

Why the variation in recommendations?

There are likely several reasons for the ‘discrepancy’ between the WHO and Australian government recommendations. I have placed ‘discrepancy’ in quotes here, because there is no real discrepancy when considering the WHO’s use of “at least”.

Firstly, the WHO’s recommendations are a worldwide recommendation, likely accounting for cultural and economic differences around the globe.

Secondly, the recommendations are based on scientific research. Good science involves the evolution and building of knowledge. That can translate to a corresponding change in recommendations.

The ever-increasing wealth of scientific knowledge around nutrition can also result in varying interpretations of study results. This can cause significant issues where interpretations vary wildly. 

In terms of fruit and veg intake, the difference between the WHO’s official recommendations and the Australian government’s is minimal. 

Beyond the basic fruit and veg numbers

Now that you know the number of serves of fruit and veg you should be getting, are there more specific recommendations? For instance, are there specific fruits and vegetables that will likely offer more health benefits than others? 

While the overall advice is to try to get a wide variety of both, that’s a reasonable question. Perhaps the best way to answer it is to highlight the preferences of the University of Newcastle’s Professor Clare Collins. 

As laureate professor in nutrition and dietetics, Prof. Collins has four plant foods on her weekly shopping list. Each has the science to back up the benefits. They are:

  • tomatoes, rich in vitamin C and a promoter of ‘good cholesterol’
  • pumpkins, rich in beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A (used in the production of antibodies that fight infection)
  • mushrooms, rich in nutrients, with strong antioxidant properties
  • oats – studies show eating intact oat kernels and thick rolled oats leads to significant reductions in blood glucose and insulin responses. (Note that eating quick rolled oats does not produce the same benefits.

The simplest answer to the ‘how much fruit and veg’ question is at least five serves combined daily. The Better Health Channel’s ‘five and two’ answer is also simple – five servings of vegetables and two of fruit. Its website provides details of serving sizes and plenty of suggestions, too.

If you currently have fewer than five serves daily, the simplest answer of all is ‘more’!

Do you get enough fruit and veg each day? How far short of the recommended mark do you fall? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Fruit and vegie skins you really should eat

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. The only time we will not meet the criteria is probably when we end up in a nursing home.
    We grow most of our vegetables and have 26 fruit trees. For two seniors we buy 4 x 2 litres of milk a week. Maybe that is why we are both so healthy in our 70’s and 80’s.

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