Lifestyle

How To Eat More Plants To Diversify Your Gut


It’s hard to feel or function your best if your gut microbiome is out of whack. A healthy gut supports everything from your immunity and mood to your sleep and skin… and this only scratches the sizable surface of its influence. Fortunately, there are many ways to diversify and support your gut with ease.

One hack worth trying out is to up your intake of different types of plant-based foods—namely aiming for 30 or more. According to 2015 findings from the American Gut Project, people who eat upwards of 30 kinds of plants per week have greater gut diversity than those who eat only 10 or less. I know, reaching this magic number may sound a bit daunting, yet it’s actually a lot easier than you’d imagine—especially if you follow the dietitian-approved tips below. But first: why diversity is the name of the gut health game.



Why a diverse gut equals a healthy gut

The diversity of species in your gut is a top predictor of how healthy your microbiome is (and thus, too, your overall well-being). “A diverse microbiota is associated with better digestion, enhanced immune function, and reduced risk of certain diseases,” says Sam Schleiger, MS, RDN, CD, CLT, IFNCP, a functional medicine dietitian based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Different plants pack different nutrients—including vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants—that provide a wider variety of food and fuel for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Schleiger adds that a diverse plant-based diet can promote better digestion and thriving gut health by:

  • Boosting fiber intake (which is something 95 percent of us need to get prioritize ASAP)
  • Enhancing nutrient absorption
  • Maintaining the health of the gut lining
  • Combating inflammation

10 tips to seamlessly diversify your plant intake

“To optimize gut health, it’s essential to consume a wide variety of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds,” Schleiger shares. If you’re up for the challenge to eat 30 different plants in a week, a bit of planning and creativity will go a long way.

1. Eat the rainbow

“Experimenting with different colors of fruits and vegetables can help ensure a diverse nutrient profile and promote healthy gut microbiota,” Schleiger explains. As you start to power up your plant consumption, try to load up on a variety of colors and hues.

2. Switch up your greens

If you regularly whip up a salad for lunch or dinner, aim to switch up the types of greens you use as a base. “Experiment with different leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula, and watercress,” Schleiger suggests. The best hack I’ve found in my own quest to eat 30 plants per week is buying mixed green blends instead of relying on my go-to purple kale. I counted no less than 16 (!) different types of greens in my last batch, which got me past the halfway point of my goal in a single serving.

The best hack I’ve found in my own quest to eat 30 plants per week is buying mixed green blends instead of relying on my go-to purple kale. I counted no less than 16 (!) different types of greens in my last batch, which got me past the halfway point of my goal in a single serving.

3. Bulk up your smoothies

Packing your smoothies—and switching up the ingredients when it’s time for your next grocery haul—is another one of the easiest ways to enjoy tons of diverse plants in one go. Schleiger advises including a combination of leafy greens, fruits, seeds, and alt-milk to your blends. You can opt for the likes of mixed blends of greens, berries, and the like to squeeze in a few extra plant-based goodies.

4. Hack your grain game

Schleiger suggests prepping different types of whole grains—such as quinoa, brown rice, barley, bulgur, and farro—to serve as a base for salads, grain bowls, stir-frys, and sides. She’s also a fan of subbing cauliflower rice for white rice, noting you can even add it to smoothies to boost their volume and fiber content.

5. Go nuts

Nuts and seeds can serve as flavorful snacks on their own or simple additions to your meals. “They provide healthy fats, protein, and a range of micronutrients,” Schleiger explains. “Examples include almonds, walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.” Yet again, you can inch closer to your 30-plant goal by opting for a bag of mixed nuts or trail mix snack packs. (My own last purchase included six plants across nuts, seeds, and dried fruits.)

6. Savor new flavors

Spice up your (culinary) life by incorporating different herbs and spices to your dishes. “Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill can enhance the taste and nutritional profile of your meals,” says Schleiger. All the while, they’ll count towards the 30-plant quota.

7. Explore global cuisines

By expanding your palate with various plants across culinary heritages, you’ll reap greater gut diversity and nutrient intake while enjoying a variety of delightful aromas and tastes. “Different ethnic cuisines often incorporate a variety of plant-based ingredients and flavors,” Schleiger explains. “For instance, Punjabi, Mexican, Moroccan, and Israeli cuisines use an extensive range of herbs, spices, vegetables, and legumes that can contribute to your plant diversity.”

8. Plan, prep, and conquer

Meal planning and prep work will make your 30-plant challenge much less daunting (not to mention save you precious time throughout the week). This could entail batch cooking with plant-based ingredients or washing, chopping, and storing veggies in advance to switch up one meal from the next.

9. Shop local

Schleiger advises visiting farmers markets or joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. “These options often offer a wider variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, providing an opportunity to try new and locally sourced produce,” she explains.

10. Work your green thumb

If you have the space, Schleiger recommends growing your own produce in a traditional garden, raised garden beds, or a small herb garden. “Oftentimes, seeing the beauty and accessibility of produce right in your backyard is enticing,” she shares. “It offers the ability to quickly add a variety of fresh herbs, fruit, and vegetables to meals and sneak these ingredients into traditional recipes.” Think: bulking up your pasta sauce with leafy greens, onions, mushrooms, parsley, and oregano.

The takeaway

Diversifying the plants in your diet for the sake of better gut health is absolutely a goal worth striving towards, but there’s no need to overthink the actual number or track it, especially if that can be a trigger for you. While eating more plants in the name of your gut microbiome can feel great, Schleiger advises against stressing out over the actual count. “It’s important to approach the goal of incorporating 30 different plants into your diet each week with a flexible mindset,” she says. “Try not to feel overwhelmed by the number. Instead, focus on gradually increasing the diversity of plants in your meals and enjoying the process of discovering new flavors and ingredients.”

“It’s important to approach the goal of incorporating 30 different plants into your diet each week with a flexible mindset. Try not to feel overwhelmed by the number. Instead, focus on gradually increasing the diversity of plants in your meals and enjoying the process of discovering new flavors and ingredients.”

After all, eating more plant-based fare than usual will always be beneficial no matter what the actual count is. (Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into supporting gut health than your plant intake alone. Lifestyle habits like managing stress, sleeping well, and moving your body also contribute to how well your gut buddies fare.) “Embrace a holistic approach to wellness and focus on long-term habits rather than fixating on a specific quota,” Schleiger concludes. When it comes to your diet, its “overall quality and consistency will have the greatest impact on your gut health and well-being.”

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