We’re told variety is the key to a healthy diet – the more variety you eat the wider the array of nutrients you get. Eat the rainbow, right? But no one said what variety means and just how much of a variety you need for optimal health.
The American Gut Project gathered microbiome samples from more than 10,000 people and discovered that those who ate 30 different plants every week had a more diverse microbiome. This is because besides being nutrient rich, plants are also rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are biologically active molecules that feed your gut bacteria aka your microbiome, benefiting your health.
Eating 30 different plants every week sounds like a lot, but it’s very achievable. When you consider that plants are not just fruits and vegetables but nuts, seeds, pulses, wholegrains, spices, herbs and even coffee and tea – there’s a good chance you’re already hitting your target. And if you’re not, by tracking what plants you’re eating each week, you can see where your shortfall is and make small adjustments to get there.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll probably have guessed that this plant challenge originated from something we read or heard and that we’ve done it. You’d be correct on both fronts.
Last year I shared this long read on the gut microbiome which led me to the Zoe Blue Poop Challenge. Because apparently, if you want to understand your gut health you need to turn your poop blue (which after the celery juice challenge didn’t sound too bad). In short, you make blue muffins (which are blue due to gel food coloring), eat them and then wait for them to exit you…blue. As they literally turn your poop blue, by tracking the time from ingestion to exit you can find out your gut transit time – which is the time it takes food to pass through your system. Too long or too short and your gut health is wonky – 28.7 hours is the average but anything from 14 hours to 58 hours is normal. You enter your results into the Zoe website, which is brilliantly designed, and they spit out information on your gut health and recommendations. Its an eye-opening challenge and gives you a better understanding of how your body works.
Having done part one, I swiftly moved on to part two, which is the 30 different plants a week challenge – the easiest way to improve your gut health, and to be honest, the easiest food challenge I’ve committed to. The first week I hit just above 30, the next just above 40 and this was without making any changes to my eating. The biggest change I noticed was that tracking how many plants I was eating made me want to eat more plants. I found myself adding an extra veggie to a salad or choosing new plants instead of going for the usual.
How does 30 Plants a Week Challenge the work?
For one week (or you can do it every week) make a note of every NEW plant you eat. This means if you ate an apple on Monday and then again on Tuesday you count apple once. The idea is to get as many different plants as possible – aiming for at least 30.
What counts as a plant?
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, wholegrains, spices and herbs.
Technically coffee beans, tea and even dark chocolate are plant based and can be counted towards your total.
Calculating your total
I followed this which said that fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds count as one point. Whereas herbs and spices are ¼ point each. I focused on counting fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds and considered herbs and spices to be my bonus points.
Firstly, it’s interesting to see how much variety you are eating. I suggest counting on a normal week without changing what you eat, seeing what you regularly have and where you can improve.
Secondly, diversity improves your health. From improving your immune system to strengthening your gut barrier. Balancing blood sugar levels to your mental health. Your microbiome health is linked to so many other bodily functions and can make a huge impact on your overall health.
So tell me, how many different plants are you eating?