What? I’m meant to eat 30 plants a week?!
Yes, that’s the aim. This is the suggestion following a study conducted by The American Gut Project (McDonald, D. et al. 2018), after investigating the gut microbiome of 10,000 individual’s in the UK, USA and Australia. Their most significant finding was the large difference between the gut microbiome of individuals that ate over 30 species of plants a week, compared to those who ate fewer than 10.
A high plant intake was associated with a higher level of microbial diversity, as different microbes in your gut ferment different fibres. The more variety of plants you eat guarantees more variation in fibres, so more bacteria are fed. For a healthy gut, the main aim is to have a rich diversity of microbes, you’re aiming for a blossoming garden of bacteria, instead of the desertification caused by eating an unvaried and low plant diet.
Achieving this flourishing garden of microbes has a large array of benefits, from supporting your immune system to synthesising vitamins and influencing brain function (Bull, M.J and Plummer, N.T. 2014). Those microbes are doing a great deal of work for our health, so they deserve to be well fed.
The number 30 can, at first, seem daunting, however, if you’re mixing up your diet and avoiding a large amount of meal repetition, it’s definitely achievable. When referring to plants, we’re not just taking about fruit and vegetables, but legumes, pulses, grains, spices and herbs as well. For example, something as simple as pasta with a home-made tomato sauce, already contains 5 plants: garlic, onion, tomatoes, basil, wheat.
Here are some top tips to reach a higher plant intake:
1. Opt for a variety of grains
In the UK wheat takes centre stage as the cereal of choice, which is unsurprising, with bread and pasta being some of the most popular carbohydrates. Changing it up from wheat is an easy way to increase variety, for example try out spelt pasta, rye bread or rice noodles. As well as adding in different types of grains such as buckwheat and quinoa.
2. Choose legumes
Whether you are whizzing chickpeas up into a hummus, slowly cooking lentils for a creamy dahl or throwing some cannellini beans into a stew, legumes are an excellent source of fibre and the perfect protein source to boost your plant intake.
3. Vary your vegetables
You may have your ‘go to’ vegetables, always filling your shopping basket with broccoli, carrots and rocket. Adding just a few new vegetables and switching them up with every shop, will ensure you achieve more variety within the week. If you find that buying more variety of vegetables means you have some left over, don’t let them go to waste, whiz up any veg on the brink of life into a tasty, plant packed soup.
4. Brighten up your breakfast
Just a few simple additions to breakfast, can give your morning a plant boost. Such as jazzing up your porridge, with some blueberries and chia seeds. Or if you prefer a more savoury breakfast, top your toast with tasty veg such as mushrooms, spinach or avocado.
5. A sprinkling of nuts and seeds.
As well as adding protein and fibre, nuts and seeds add a crunchy texture and aesthetic appeal. A good tip is to fill a jar with roasted seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, then they’re ready to sprinkle over any meal, making a great addition of soups and salads. Nuts can also brighten up many meals, such as cashew nuts in a curry or peanuts in a stir fry. Or just a pot of almonds and pistachios are a great snack.
6. Add some herbs
Herbs are more than just a great way of decorating your meal, they also contribute to your plant intake. So chuck them on more often! Parsley pairs well with fish, coriander on top of a curry, whilst rosemary is great with some roasted veg and potatoes.
We’ve managed to reach over 30 different plants in this article, so maybe it’s not as hard as you think? Give yourself a challenge and jot down all the plants you eat in a week to see what number you get to. Implementing some of these tips will be sure to get that number higher and head towards a healthier gut.
Lottie graduated last summer from The University of Leeds with a degree in Nutrition and has since gone on to write several articles for BBC food.
McDonald, D. et al. 2018. American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. American Society for Microbiology. https://msystems.asm.org/content/3/3/e00031-18
Bull, M.J and Plummer, N.T. 2014. Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566439/