Kickstarting some healthy eating habits can be a daunting process, especially when you’re not used to seeing a variety of vegetables on your weekly shopping list. Often, we stick to the produce, products and recipes we grow familiar with, but it’s important to not get stuck in a rut when it comes to food as diet diversity plays a key role in mental health.
The gut-brain axis
A key contributor to the gut-brain axis is the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract and play a key role in digestion, nutrient absorption, metabolism, bodyweight management, immune regulation and mood. The gut microbiome starts to develop while we are still in the womb and continues to evolve throughout our life. Diet and lifestyle are modifiable factors contributing to our gut microbiome development.
The more the merrier
When it comes to our overall health, it is thought that diversity in the amounts and type of bacteria in our gut microbiome will lead to better health outcomes. While everyone has a unique microbiome, if the balance of gut bacteria is disrupted, this could promote inflammation which is a risk factor for mental illness. If we want to look after our mental health, thinking about our gut microbiome health is key.
What does diet diversity look like?
When we think about diversity in our gut bacteria, 30 is considered the magic number! The American Gut Project found a number of health benefits associated with eating 30 different plant foods per week, compared to those who consumed 10 or less different plant foods per week. Those who consumed 30 or more plants had much more diversity in their gut microbiome. They also showed an increase in the number of bacteria which produce compounds called short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids have been linked with reduced inflammation and immune function, better mental health outcomes, and nutrients in these plant foods are also known to play a role in the production of serotonin which is linked with mood.
For many people, 30 might sound like a really big number to aim for, but vegetables and fruit aren’t the only contributors to our 30 plant foods, we can also count wholegrain foods, nuts, seeds, legumes and olive oil. Aiming for 30 different plant foods across the week is a lot easier when we consider all the different foods that could count toward this number. Apart from helping to develop a diverse gut microbiome, these plant foods are also good sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals beneficial in many areas of our health.
Tips for eating 30 different plants per week
Aiming for 30 plant-based foods per week might sound overwhelming, so it helps to break this down into smaller goals. Start by writing down a food diary for one week, then counting how many different plant-based foods you ate that week (if you ate an apple every day, this counts as 1 food, not 7).
The next week, try to gradually increase that number by introducing between 1-3 different plants into your week. If you normally eat a packet of chips in the afternoon, trying swapping this for a piece of fruit or some vegetable sticks the next week.
Also, think about ways you can enhance the meals you currently eat. Do you have a Spaghetti Bolognese recipe you love? Try adding some vegetables into the mix, such as grated carrots and mushrooms, and you can even add lentils to bulk up the mix and make your mince go further. Bulking up meals with vegetables and legumes is a versatile and budget-friendly way to enhance your plant food intake without having to drastically change your normal cooking habits.
Writing down a plan and breaking the goal up into smaller tasks makes this goal a lot more achievable and less overwhelming. Remember to also be kind to yourself, it is okay if you don’t reach this target straight away, or reach it every single week for that matter! Consistency instead of perfection is key.
Want some easy-budget friendly recipes to help you reach your 30 plant goal? Drop your details below!