DUBAI // More than half of Dubai's residents are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, a survey has revealed.
A report by Dubai Health Authority (DHA) was announced yesterday, following a household poll jointly conducted in 2009 with the Dubai Statistics Centre.
The survey asked 5,034 respondents how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate on a typical day. One serving of fruit was defined as a medium-sized fruit or a handful of smaller fruits, while a serving of vegetables was defined as a cup of fresh or cooked veg.
The recommended daily intake is five portions of fruits and vegetables - about 400 grams - according to the World Health Organisation.
The study showed that 59 per cent of Dubai residents are falling short. Women are more likely to eat sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables than men, and consumption among Arab expatriates was 64 per cent versus the total male average of nearly 40 per cent.
Indian women consumed more fruit and vegetables compared to Emirati, European and other Asian women, the survey found.
Hala Abu Taha, a nutritionist at Dubai-based Right-Bite, attributed these trends to deeply rooted traditions.
Arabs "were not raised to eat such foods, but to have sweets", she said. "It's a part of our culture, and this needs to change. Fruit and vegetables should be considered a must rather than an option."
Ms Taha recommended three to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
"Fruits and vegetables carry a lot of the fibres that are essential for metabolism," she said. "Most importantly, they suppress the craving [for] sweets."
Fruits and vegetables are useful snacks to avoid hunger pangs, said Ms Taha. The way in which they are prepared also makes a significant difference.
"If they are cooked, they should only be steamed or sautéed," she said. "They should not be fried or covered in cream, as they will lose their nutritional benefits."
Greens provide antioxidants that can protect against chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, added Ms Taha.
"The lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to prevent cancers, particularly prostate cancer," she said. "Orange produce, like carrots and oranges, have betacarotenes that are important for nourishing the skin."
The DHA study also found correlations between fruit and veg consumption and age, education and income.
As people get older, their consumption of fruits and vegetables increases. The highest prevalence of sufficient consumption was among high-income groups, with the lowest among low-income groups.
"This is due to lifestyle issues, lack of awareness of [what constitutes] a healthy diet and unaffordability by the poor labourers," said Dr Amnah Matar Al Marshdah, a senior research specialist with the health policy and strategy sector at the DHA.
Sufficient consumption among Emiratis was slightly higher than average, at 54 per cent.
Officials said they would use the report to improve health policy.
"These findings provide valuable data - we can base our public health policies in a manner that allows us to reach out to the segment of society that most requires it," said Laila Al Jassmi, chief executive of the health policy and strategy sector at the DHA. "The study establishes a direct link between education and consumption of fruits and vegetables, and points out the need to raise overall awareness in society.
"A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is very important, especially for our population, given the current prevalence of lifestyle diseases."