Why you should eat 30 different foods a week (and how to do it)

Nourish bowls are an easy way to introduce more plant-based ingredients into your diet.
Nourish bowls are an easy way to introduce more plant-based ingredients into your diet. Photo: Katrina Meynink

With much nutrition talk focusing on gut health and the powerful link it has to our immunity, mood and wellbeing, it is understandable there are more and more foods gracing supermarket shelves that are marketed for their gut-related benefits.

What may come as a surprise is that the health of our gut not only relies on what foods we eat, but the range of ingredients we consume, too. 

Specifically, it has been shown that individuals who consume at least 30 different plant-based foods each week have more varied gut bacteria, and ultimately a healthier gut microbiome as a result.

From a scientific perspective it appears that mixing up the plant foods we eat exposes the body to different mixes of dietary fibre and key nutrients, which in turn plays a key role in maximising the types and quality of bacteria in the gut.

This means that if you reach for the same type of breakfast cereal, simple sandwich and meat and three veg each night, chances are we are not even close to reaching 30 different plant foods each week to optimally feed your gut.

So if your food diary is translating into just 10 or even 20 plant foods on average each week, here are some easy ways to hit your weekly target of at least 30 different plant foods each week (or even each day!) 

GOOD FOOD:             Jill Dupleix. MARCH 10: BREAKFAST SALAD. Photo: Edwina Pickles. Taken 3rd March on 2015.

Mix up your breakfast roster with Jill Dupleix's breakfast salad. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Breakfast

It is easy to supercharge your plant-food intake in the morning, even with simple breakfast options. If you love toast or cereal,choose options with multiple grains or seeds – think nine- or 10-grain seeded breads, or wholegrain breakfast cereals that contain multiple grains. If your cereal is plain, add some nuts, or seeds such as chia. If a hot breakfast is your thing, vegies are your best bet with mushies, avo, tomato, kale or spinach on the side. You can also add in a mixed vegetable juice to add an extra three to four different plant foods. With these simple additions you reach at least five to six plant food serves at breakfast or even as many as nine or 10 in a single meal. Total plant foods = 5-6 

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Donna Hay recipe for super tasty broccoli bowl.
Photo by Con Poulos

Up your vegie game with Donna Hay's broccoli bowl. Photo: Con Poulos

Lunch

The mistake many of us make at lunch time is we forget to add 2-3 cups of salad, vegetables or soup. From a plant-food perspective this simple trick instantly adds at least three to four plant food serves at lunchtime. Adding a few seeds or nuts to your salads will add a serve, as will meals that include legumes such as chickpeas or kidney beans; grain and seeded breads and crackers or wholegrains such as corn, brown rice, barley or quinoa. Here your total plant food serves will easily clock in at five to six at lunchtime or even up to 10 if you opt for leftovers or vegetarian lunch options such as nourish bowls, large salads or vegetable pastas. Total average plant foods = 5-6

Andrew McConnell's cucumbers, yoghurt and mint.

Snack on Andrew McConnell's cucumbers, yoghurt and mint. Photo: William Meppem

Snacks

Forget muffins, plain biscuits, or snack bars if your goal is to reach 30 plant foods a week. Rather, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, wholegrain crackers with avocado, hummus or nut spread or yoghurt teamed with fruits and seeds will give you another two to three plant serves for each of your daily snacks. When choosing crackers, opt for mixed grain and seed options, or nut and seed snack packs that include multiple nut and seed varieties. Total plant foods = 2-3

Jill Dupleix's vegan pad Thai noodles
Photo: Jill Dupleix

Add Jill Dupleix's vegan pad Thai to your meal roster. Photo: Jill Dupleix

Dinner

Forget meat and three veg for dinner. Instead, try meals that contain a smaller portion of meat, chicken or fish, and load up the plate with salad, vegetables along with a wholegrain serve (½ cup) of corn, brown rice, wholemeal pasta or legumes such as kidney beans. Alternatively, starting each meal with a soup or salad instantly boosts your intake by at least five serves per meal. You could also factor in a plant-based meal or two each week. Think vegetarian nachos, chilli con carne, vegetable soup, quiche or risotto, or chickpea or lentil patties. Total plant foods = 8-10

Compare and contrast

TYPICAL DAY

Breakfast: Bowl of oats or toast with Vegemite = 1 plant food

Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwich = 1 plant food

Snack: Apple and muesli bar = 3 plant foods

Dinner: Chicken, potato, carrot and peas = 3 plant foods

Total plant serves = 8

30+ DAY

Breakfast: Oats with nuts, seeds and fresh berries = 5 plant foods

Lunch: Bowl of minestrone soup, multigrain ham and cheese sandwich = 10 plant foods

Snack: Yoghurt with mixed berries, pepitas and walnuts = 4 plant foods

Dinner: Large salad with extra virgin olive oil; chicken with ratatouille; slice of grain bread = 12 plant foods

Total plant serves = 31