The human microbiome is a hot topic in the science world and among health conscious individuals. While there is still much to learn in this area, there are a few things that we are pretty sure about at this point. I won’t get into the super science-y stuff but I will say this:
- The human gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms (Sounds gross but this is a good thing!)
- Research is suggesting that greater microbial diversity is associated with greater overall health outcomes and may play a protective role in immune response and mental health as well as prevention of various gastrointestinal, cardiometabolic, and inflammatory diseases
- There are many factors which can impact the microbiome including genetics, geography, diet, and medications
- Research has shown that greater diversity of plant food consumption may play a beneficial role. Specifically, individuals who ate more than 30 different plant foods in a week had significantly greater microbial diversity than those who ate 10 or fewer plant foods per week.
As a dietitian I find this extremely exciting. At first, many people are intimidated by this number, but it is easier than you think! I decided to track my own diet for a week (without changing my routine) to see how I was doing. Results: I consumed well over 30 different plants a week with an omnivorous diet and doing batch cooking (aka repeating some of my meals).
Plant foods include more than just fruits and vegetables. Nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and even coffee/tea can be counted toward this number!
Tips for increasing your plant diversity:
- Choose multigrain products more often (whole wheat bread is 1 plant food. If your bread also contains flax, kamut, spelt, and quinoa you already have 5!)
- Add a handful of mixed nuts/seeds to oats or yogurt parfaits (oatmeal is 1 plant food. If you add chia seeds, hemp hearts, and walnuts, now you have 4!)
- Keep frozen mixed berry or fruit blends in the freezer for smoothies. Mixed veggie blends are also great for a quick stir fry.
- Switch up your salad greens-Choosing a blend of baby kale, spinach, and arugula provides 3 plants versus just lettuce
- Choose plant-based proteins such as tofu, beans, or lentils a couple times a week for an added bonus
Curious to know what exceeding 30 plants a week looks like for me?
It is not as exciting or involved as you may think. In fact, this was a weird week when my partner was out of town so I was actually being quite lazy with my meal prepping- so please don’t judge my dietary choices!
*note: This is not a complete diet recall as some foods that were irrelevant to the 30-plant challenge were not included. I do not suggest using this list as meal plan guidance, however if it inspires new ways to incorporate plants I am ok with that!
Breakfast: Oatmeal w/ frozen mixed berries, chia seeds, hemp hearts, peanut butter + coffee
Lunch: Smoothie with Mango, Banana, Spinach, Avocado
Dinner: Cobb salad with Romaine, Red cabbage, Carrot, Tomato, Cucumber
Snacks: Almonds & dried Cranberries, Clementine
New Plants: 20
Oats, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, chia, hemp, peanut, coffee, mango, banana, spinach, avocado, romaine, red cabbage, carrot, tomato, cucumber, almond, cranberry, clementine
Breakfast: Yogurt & granola (multigrain) with banana, mango, clementine, pepitas + coffee
Lunch: Fried rice with red pepper, yellow pepper, onion, garlic, ginger
Dinner: Sandwich (multi grain/flax bread) and cabbage salad (red cabbage, carrot, onion)
Snacks: apple with peanut butter
New Plants: 12
Kamut, spelt, quinoa, pepitas, red pepper, yellow pepper, onion, garlic, ginger, wheat, flax, apple
Breakfast: Rye toast with peanut butter + coffee
Lunch: Fruit + yogurt bowl (nothing new)
Dinner: Breakfast skillet (sweet potato, avocado, tomato, cilantro)
Snacks: carrots + hummus
New Plants: 4
Rye, sweet potato, cilantro, chickpea
Breakfast: Fruit & yogurt etc (nothing new)
Lunch: Sandwich (nothing new)
Dinner: Salad (Spinach, red pepper, tomato, cucumber, avocado, olives, lentils, fresh basil)
Snacks: Mary’s crackers with peanut butter
New Plants: 3
Olives, lentils, basil
Breakfast: Oatmeal with peanut butter and berries
Lunch: Mary’s and hummus, apple, fig bar
Dinner: same as yesterday
Snacks: Yogurt with strawberries
New Plants: 2
Breakfast: Toast with peanut butter and apple
Lunch: Smoothie (nothing new)
Dinner: Tofu and veggie stir fry (green bean, snow pea, mushroom, water chestnuts, broccoli, quinoa)
New Plants: 6
Tofu (soy), green bean, snow pea, mushroom, water chestnuts, broccoli
Breakfast: Oatmeal etc (nothing new)
Lunch: Salad (only new plant=sunflower seeds)
Dinner: Same as yesterday
Snacks: Fig bar
New Plants: 1
Total: 48 !!!
- If you have coffee or tea once in a whole week I probably wouldn’t count that but if you have at least a few cups then count it
- Spices and herbs are a question mark-they do count but in what quantity? If you have a spice that you have every single day or in large quantities, count it. If you have a sprinkle of oregano on one dish I would leave that out of your count. I use handfuls of cilantro/basil at a time so I did count that however I did not count the sprinkle of cinnamon or oregano that I had a couple times.
- Same goes for grainy breads- I chose to count only the top 3 ingredients or ones I could actually see. If you eat one slice of grainy bread in the week and spelt is the last ingredient….I will leave that up to your judgement!
- If you regularly put lemon or other fruit in your water you could count that (I used the juice of maybe ½ a lime this week so I opted not to count it)
McDonald, D., Hyde, E., Debelius, J. W., Morton, J. T., Gonzalez, A., Ackermann, G., Aksenov, A. A., Behsaz, B., Brennan, C., Chen, Y., DeRight Goldasich, L., Dorrestein, P. C., Dunn, R. R., Fahimipour, A. K., Gaffney, J., Gilbert, J. A., Gogul, G., Green, J. L., Hugenholtz, P., Humphrey, G., … Knight, R. (2018). American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. mSystems, 3(3), e00031-18. https://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems.00031-18