THE 5 A-DAY CONFUSION
We all know the five-a-day mantra to encourage adults and children to consume more fruit and vegetables. When it comes to eating fruit and vegetables, we have all got the message: the required number is five. The message is so ubiquitous it has taken on a life of its own and probably a fame way beyond its achievements.
Promoters arrived at the figure of five simply by chopping up the World Health Organisation’s recommended (and totally arbitrary) minimum daily 400g of fruit and veg into a bite-size marketing message. It also echoed the “five a day – for better health!” campaign launched in California in 1988 and later taken up across the US.
The aim was to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. In an attempt to reinforce the importance of unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods. In 2003, the 5-a-day campaign was officially backed by developed countries and has since had millions of dollars ploughed into it. Those 80g portions were a kind of finger food for the brain and easy to digest. They never claimed to tell the whole story, just to get people started.
But many experts now believe that eating a wide variety of plants – and more of them, could be just as important. It’s been coined the ’30 plant challenge’ and touted as a fad on social media, but there is actually real science to back this up.
But where did this number come from? In 2018, scientists published results from the American Gut Project, which involved a collaboration between researchers and over 10,000 “citizen scientists” from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. These volunteers provided detailed information about their dietary habits and submitted stool samples for analysis. The researchers examined these samples to identify the types of microorganisms present in their gut.
The findings of the study revealed that individuals who consumed a greater variety of plants exhibited a more diverse gut microbiome. Specifically, participants who consumed 30 or more different plants on a weekly basis were more likely to possess certain beneficial gut bacteria compared to those who consumed only 10 plants. Moreover, the stool samples of the former group contained higher levels of healthy chemicals produced by these bacteria.
The study was originally designed to explore microbial diversity across human populations and to then educate the broader community about this key aspect of human health. While vegetarian and vegan diets have gained popularity, you don’t have to completely eliminate animal products to experience the benefits of plants. Incorporating a wide variety of plant-based foods into your meals can have numerous positive effects on your health.
In this article we explore how this approach can be a game-changer for your overall health and how it can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle. Let’s dive in;
Maximize Nutrient Intake:
By consuming 30 different plants in a week, you increase the likelihood of obtaining a wide spectrum of essential nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that play a crucial role in supporting various bodily functions. The more diverse your plant intake, the more likely you are to get a broad range of nutrients that are vital for optimal health.
The diversity of plants in your diet is also crucial for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, which consists of a community of bacteria and other microorganisms residing in your digestive system. This is due to the presence of prebiotics in plants, which serve as a source of nourishment for beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotics found in plants encompass various forms of fibre, carbohydrates, and polyphenols, which are responsible for the vibrant colours seen in many plant-based foods. In addition to providing colours, polyphenols also possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Plants are abundant in antioxidants, which help protect our bodies against oxidative stress and free radicals. Different plants contain unique antioxidant compounds, and by consuming a variety of them, you expose your body to a wider array of these powerful substances. Antioxidants are known for their role in reducing inflammation, supporting the immune system, and potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Fibre and Digestive Health:
A plant-based diet rich in fibre can promote a healthy digestive system. Eating a wide range of plants provides different types of fibre, including soluble and insoluble fibre, which aid in maintaining regular bowel movements, preventing constipation, and supporting a healthy gut microbiome. Additionally, a fibre-rich diet has been associated with a reduced risk of developing conditions like diverticulitis, haemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Eating 30 plants a week can be beneficial for weight management and overall satiety. Plant-based foods are generally lower in calories and higher in fibre compared to animal products. This combination helps you feel fuller for longer, reducing the chances of overeating or snacking on unhealthy foods. Moreover, a plant-based diet can support healthy weight loss, as it often contains fewer unhealthy fats and added sugars commonly found in processed foods.
Numerous studies have linked plant-based diets with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. Plant foods are naturally low in saturated and trans fats while being rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They are also cholesterol-free. Consuming a variety of plants provides a range of nutrients that support heart health, such as potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, and dietary fibre. These nutrients help maintain healthy blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol levels, and improve overall cardiovascular function.
Diverse Micronutrient Profile:
Different plant foods offer an array of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for maintaining good health. By incorporating 30 plants into your diet each week, you increase your chances of meeting your daily requirements for nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E, folate, iron, calcium, and many others. A varied plant-based diet ensures you receive a spectrum of micronutrients, which can positively impact energy levels, cognitive function, bone health, and overall vitality.
Eating 30 plants a week opens up a world of culinary possibilities. It encourages creativity in the kitchen and allows you to explore a variety of flavours, textures, and cooking methods. Experimenting with different plant-based recipes can be exciting and enjoyable, making healthy eating an engaging experience. Whether it’s trying exotic fruits, experimenting with new vegetable dishes, or exploring ethnic cuisines, the journey to incorporating 30 plants into your diet can be a culinary adventure.
To conclude; we don’t need a degree in nutrition to work out if what’s on the end of our fork is going to kill us. It’s simply about getting more plants into your weekly meals, and cutting down or out on the food we already know is not good for our health. The power of plants cannot be overstated.
The real challenge is breaking old habits, and that part takes time. By diversifying your plant consumption, you can ensure you receive a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre that are essential for your body’s optimal functioning. So, let the colours of the plant kingdom grace your plate, and embark on a journey toward a healthier and more vibrant life!