Eating more fruit and vegetables is the best way to optimise your health.
You’ve heard that before right? It’s mantra that we hear repeated over and over again. Still, the message does not seem to hit home. The reality is quite grim. According to the survey done by Eurostat in 2016, in Europe, only 1 in 7 people aged 15 or over hits the target of 5 a day, while 1 in 3 people do not consume fruit and vegetables on daily basis.1
You may think that you consume a wide variety of plant foods but do you really? We can be creatures of habit and it’s easy to get into a food rut, especially when we are busy. More often than not we buy the same foods every week and we don’t even realise.
A 30 plant-foods a week challenge can be a great tool to start a new healthy habit, introduce more variety into your diet and can be a fun competition for the whole family.
You may be thinking, how on earth will I manage to eat 30 plant foods a week?…
When I suggest this to my clients they sometimes look at me like I am mad. I can assure you that I am not! Not yet anyway…
It may sound like a lot but it’s actually easier than you may think.
Where did the number 30 come from?
Increasing variety of plant foods in our diet comes with plethora of benefits, gut health being one of them.
When it comes to our gut health the variety of ingredients we consume is as important as the type of foods we eat. A healthy gut relies on large numbers of different species of bacteria (quantity and diversity).
Researchers from the American Gut Project found that people who consumed 30 different plant foods each week had more diversified gut bacteria when compared with people who ate 10 or less.2
The research also shows that eating 30 or more plant foods a week leads to increased numbers of bacteria that produce short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to have protective properties against bowel cancer.3
On the other hand, a study from 2018 4 reported that lower bacterial diversity has been observed in people with various autoimmune diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes and other conditions.
So, diversifying and increasing your plant intake is key for healthy gut, healthy digestion and healthy you.
What counts as a plant food?
- Fruit and vegetables – this is pretty strait forward. The main thing to remember is that each variety counts as one – so rocket salad is different to watercress salad leaves.
- Whole grains – e.g. brown rice, oats, millet, quinoa. White pasta is not included as the heavy industrial processing substantially reduces its nutritional value.
- Legumes – beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts, flax and chia seeds and many, many more.
- Herbs and spices – these are plant-based but they only count as ¼ because the quantities we eat tend to be quite small
To make it easier for you, I have put together a list of various plant foods, which you can find below. To save it to your phone or computer right-click on the picture.
Each item only counts once in the week, even if you eat a lot of it. So if you eat a carrot on a Monday you can’t include it again for the rest of the week. This challenge is all about variety.
Stick the list on your fridge, get the family involved and get competitive!
Few tips to get you started:
- Mark the start day so you can keep track
- Include a plant food in each meal
- Look for mixed beans either frozen or canned to boost your bean variety
- Buy frozen fruit to make delicious sorbets or add them to yoghurt and smoothies
- Swap meat for a vegetarian protein couple of days a week e.g. beans, quinoa, lentils
- Opt for salads and stir-frys – these are a great way to get a lot of different plants in one meal and are easy and quick to make.
- Frozen or canned foods are a great option and will be a little kinder to your wallet (read the labels for unwanted ingredients)
- Swap processed snacks for a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit or vegetable sticks with hummus.
Give it a go and see how you get on.
I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and let me know how was your experience.
- Eurostat (2016), “Consumption of fruit and vegetables in the EU” News release 197/2016. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7694616/3-14102016-BP-EN.pdf/1234ac94-27fd-4640-b9be-427a42d54881
- McDonald, D. et al. (2018), “American gut: an open platform for citizen science microbiome research”. ASM journals 3(3). Available: https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/mSystems.00031-18
- Masfield, R. (2021), “Could you eat 30 plant-based foods a week?” Available: https://www.wcrf-uk.org/our-blog/could-you-eat-30-plant-based-foods-each-week/
- Valdes, A.M. (2018), “Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health” BMJ 361 Available: https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179