Most of us have heard about the importance of eating at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day, but what is the deal with 30 plants a week?
The health benefits of eating 30 different plants a week came from one of the largest microbiome research studies published in 2018.
The American Gut Project looked at the stool samples of over 10,000 people (primarily from the U.S., UK, and Australia) and studied differences in the diversity of their microbiome in relation to overall health and disease risk factors.
They found that those who ate at least 30 different plant based foods a week had a more diverse gut microbiome in comparison to those who ate only 10 or less.
Why does this matter? This blog post will break down the benefits and give you tips on how you can start implementing more plant based foods into your diet.
Why Microbiome Diversity is Important
Gut health and how our microbiome impacts our immune system and overall health has increasingly become a hot topic – both in health trends and in research.
So, what is the microbiome? It turns out your gut houses trillions of bacteria and other microbes that make up your own individual unique microbiome. These bacteria or microbes help you with digestion, fight off pathogens, maintain a healthy gut lining barrier and are a major part of your immune system.
After years of studying the microbiome, research has found that the more diverse the number of different species of healthy bacteria you have the better your overall health is.
This includes a reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, intestinal bowel diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer1. The health of your microbiome also impacts your mood as your gut and brain communicate with each other.
Your diet – what you eat – is a critical factor in determining what kind of bacteria/microbes inhabit your gut. According to the American Gut Project the single greatest predictor of a healthy microbiome was the diversity of plants in the diet.
I don’t know about you, but that definitely inspires me to add more plants to my plate!
What Counts as a Plant Food?
So, you’re ready to start adding in more variety of plant foods to your diet but what counts as a plant?
It goes beyond just counting different fruits and vegetables. All plant foods including whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and even fresh herbs and spices count.
In addition, each variety of plant offers unique benefits to specific species of microbes. So, each different variety of lettuce (e.g., romaine, kale, arugula, spinach, etc.) all count as a different plant.
If you really want to get technical, a Fuji apple would be slightly different than a Granny Smith apple so I would count them as two separate plants.
Just note that each of these foods only count once over the course of the week. So, if you eat avocado on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday it only counts once.
Also, don’t focus too much on what counts as a portion because really it’s all about adding in diversity. Since we use only small amounts of dried herbs and spices they usually only count as .25 (1/4) versus fresh herbs which count as one.
Now that all these different plant foods and varieties are included you can see how much easier it is to reach the goal of eating at least 30 plants a week.
Fruit & Vegetables
Some ideas of different vegetables: arugula, asparagus, artichoke, beets, broccoli, bok choy, bell pepper (capsicum), brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, chard, daikon radish, eggplant, green beans, jicama, kale, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potato, pumpkin, radish, spinach, sprouts, sugar snap peas, sweet potato, squash, zucchini.
Fruits: apple, avocado, apricot, banana, blueberries, blackberries, coconut, cantelope, cherries, dates, dragonfruit, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew, kiwi, lemon, lime, mango, mandarin oranges, nectarine, orange, pineapple, papaya, persimmon, peach, plum, pear, pomegranate, raspberries, strawberries, starfruit, tangerine, tomato, watermelon.
Amaranth, barley, brown rice, black rice, buckwheat, bulgar, farro, millet, oats, quinoa, red rice, rye, spelt, teff, whole wheat bread or pasta, wild rice.
Regular refined white flour, bread, pasta, cereal, rice does not count towards whole grains due to the fact that most of the nutrition and fiber are removed during processing.
Nuts & Seeds
Almonds or almond butter, Brazil nut, chestnuts, cashews or cashew butter, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hazelnut, hemp seeds, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds or tahini, sunflower seeds, walnuts.
Beans & Legumes
Black beans, black eye peas, cannellini beans, chickpeas or hummus, fava beans, green peas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, peanuts or peanut butter, pinto beans, soybeans or edamame or tofu.
Herbs & Spices
Yes, herbs and spices come from plants! They have their own unique health properties and benefits besides making your food taste yummy.
Some options: allspice, basil, cacao or cocoa, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cilantro, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, mint, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, peppercorns, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is used a lot not only for its umami flavoring but also to add nutrition. It’s not technically an herb or spice but I would count it as such.
30 Plant Based Foods a Week Challenge
Ready to get started on the 30 plants a week challenge?? Awesome. Here are 6 tips to help you increase your diversity:
- Choose a super greens mix when buying your lettuce. This will often give you 4 or 5 different kinds of greens – an easy 4-5 points!
- Incorporate frozen fruits and vegetables that give you variety like mixed vegetables to throw in a stir-fry or mixed berries to put in your smoothie.
- Add some variety to your rice. Besides brown rice there is black rice, red rice, wild rice or you can try quinoa.
- Overnight oats or oatmeal in the morning with walnuts, chia seeds and fruit can be a great way to plant start your day.
- Mix up your pasta. Try pasta made from chickpeas, lentils, quinoa or buckwheat (soba noodles).
- Flavor enhance your food with herbs and spices! It’s time to put down the salt shaker and kick up the spice! Discover different ways to add flavor to your food with plant sources.
If you need more ideas of how to up your plant intake take a look at the blog 15 tips for Eating More Plants. I also created a Guide for you to keep track of your plant points. Check it out below:
Every meal is an opportunity to add more plant foods. Turns out variety is not only the spice of life but it can optimize your health as well.
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