Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to consume a strict kale-smoothie-and-kombucha diet to improve your gut health. The opposite is true. When we consume a diet that's rich in plant diversity, it can have an incredible benefit to the health of our microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live in our gut).
A large international study published in 2018 discovered individuals who consume 30 or more different types of plant-based foods per week has a more diverse gut microbiome (and when it comes to our gut, a healthy gut is a diverse one!) (McDonald et al., 2018). Here are 5 ways to add more diversity to your diet and improve your gut health today.
Try ‘eating the rainbow’
When we eat the aim to eat the rainbow (and sorry I’m not referring to Skittles), you’re automatically aiming to eat a more diverse diet. Instead of counting the number of calories on your plate, try counting the different colours of your plate. Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain certain nutrients that aren’t found in others. For example, anthocyanins which is the antioxidant responsible for the blue-purple colour in blueberries, grapes and plums have cardioprotective effects whilst carotenoids found in carrots and pumpkin are beneficial for maintaining healthy vision (Abdel-Aal, Akhtar, Zaheer and Ali, 2013) (Khoo, Azlan, Tang and Lim, 2017).
Make friends with vegetables
Gone are the days when eating vegetables meant eating a sad side salad with your main meal. Nowadays, the internet allows us access to countless delicious plant-based recipes. Still not convinced? Another way to add more vegetables into your diet is by making sneaky swaps such as blitzing up cauliflower rice to replace white rice, using a collard leaf for a ‘wrap’ and swapping out wholegrain noodles with zucchini noodles (‘zoodles’).
Go vegetarian a few times a week
Not only are vegetarian meals more friendly for the Earth, but they’re also great to increase our dietary fibre and vegetable intake (Lynch, Johnston and Wharton, 2018). Instead of your standard meat and three vegetables, replace the animal-protein portion of your meal with tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, or other legumes. Some healthy plant-based dinners include warming lentil curries, tofu stir-fries, black bean tacos and quinoa salads.
Make use of toppings
Whilst we may all assume ‘plant foods’ include just fruit and veg, you’d be surprised to know nuts, wholegrains, seeds, herbs, spices, and legumes can all count towards the plant foods we consume daily. Try adding chia seeds to your morning oatmeal, topping your salads with pecans, and snacking on almonds alongside your fruit. Additionally, you can opt to use fresh herbs and spices to flavour your foods instead of using sauces or salt- this way you can improve the palatability of your meal and reduce your sugar and salt intake!
Experiment with your meals
Next time you’re in the grocery store, pick a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t consumed before (or at least recently). Challenge yourself to find creative ways to cook with it and you may end up discovering a new favourite vegetable! Are you lost as to what to choose? Google what’s in season and start from there. Often seasonal fruits and vegetables are cheaper, tastier and contain higher nutritional value (hence you’re getting a bigger bang for your buck!).