A New Year’s Challenge: Get More Plants on Your Plate!
Don’t fall for diet culture shams and scams this year, instead focus on adding nutrient dense foods for mega health benefits!
Ahh January. The anticipation of a new year, a fresh start, and a commitment to new routines and intentions. As a self-declared Type-A goal-getter, I love the first month of a new year as an opportunity to reflect on the successes and challenges of the year before and set new intentions and rhythms for the months to come.
I find the possibilities exciting! However, as a non-diet dietitian, I also know how incredibly difficult January can be because of the total onslaught of diet culture messaging about “getting back on the wagon” and “burning off those holiday indiscretions”. All we hear tends to circle around foods to cut out, avoid, and restrict. If you ask me, that sounds like a pretty sad way to start a fresh new season. So instead, I challenge you to focus on what you can ADD to your plate this year to feel good from the inside out. Read on for some fun science and a challenge to get you (and your gut!) feeling great!
The 30-Plant Challenge
With a focus on adding more of the good stuff, I present to you a new challenge: what I have dubbed the 30-Plant Challenge! You may be wondering, “why the number 30?” and it stems from some pretty incredible research that has been conducted by the American Gut Project based out of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. This project looked at over 10,000 stool samples from all over the world (mainly the US, the UK, and Australia) to compare differences in the gut microbiomes of individuals.
In this large “citizen science” project, researchers found that individuals who ate 30 or more different plant foods per week had more diverse microbiomes (referring to the community of bacteria that reside in our gut) in comparison to those individuals who ate 10 or less plant foods in a week. Now, we must remember that this study discusses some powerful correlations, AKA associations, but cannot prove any causal relationship. We know that eating more plant foods is associated with more diverse gut bacteria, and that this may have marked influence on metabolism, inflammation, and risk for disease. In other words, for good gut health, diversity is the goal! And at the same time, it’s important to recognize that there is a lot we are still learning about the gut microbiome, and many more factors can influence microbiome diversity in addition to what we eat. That being said, as a dietitian I always joke with my clients that I have yet to see a study where adding in more plant foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and plant proteins has led to poor outcomes. So, for very low risk, and the potential of big benefits, why not take on a 30-plant challenge for the week? Heck, maybe you even try it for every week this month!
I find that most of my clients eat somewhere between 10 and 30 plants a week, so aiming for 30 different plant foods a week is a challenging, yet doable goal. But feel free to make this your own and work up to 30 or more plant foods in whatever way works best for you.
What do you mean by “plant-foods”?
What counts as a plant food? Any fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes (beans and pulses), as well as nuts and seeds. Bonus points if you add fresh herbs and spices! Here are a few ideas:
- Fruits: raspberries, pineapple, grapes, apples, banana
- Veggies: cucumber, spinach, kale, squash, mushroom, onion
- Grains: brown rice, quinoa, oats, wholewheat flour
- Legumes, Nuts & Seeds: cashews, almonds, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, pumpkin seeds
Putting it into practice: 5 tips to get more plants on your plate
Getting excited yet? Wondering how the heck you get 30 plants on your plate this week? I promise it’s easier than it sounds. For example, let’s say tonight you were going to plan a stir fry with onion, broccoli, carrots, and chickpeas on brown rice. That’s already 5/30 plants! Add that to a day with oatmeal and berries for breakfast and a snack of trail mix with a nut/seed mix, and you are well on your way! Here are a few more tips to get more plants on your plate:
1. Make Friends with your Freezer
Frozen spinach and berries are always great options to throw into morning smoothies, or try adding frozen veggies to scrambled eggs, or frozen fruit on top of Greek yogurt.
2. Support your Local Farmer’s Market
I love checking out my local markets to see what’s in season. Challenge yourself to try a new fruit or vegetable – as a bonus, your local growers usually have great tips on how to prepare/cook their produce!
3. Make it a Meatless Monday
4. Mix it Up
Rather than a single plant ingredient, try mixed greens in your next salad, or mixed nuts in a trail mix. Aim for more colours on your plate at each meal!
5. Plan Ahead
Try some simple meal planning for the week and make your grocery list to ensure you hit your 30-plant goal through meals and snacks!
In summary, as we enter into a new season, focus on abundance! Ask yourself what you can ADD to meals and snacks to boost your nutrition and add more variety to your plate. As you add in more plant foods to your weekly routine, know that you are doing great things for your gut! Take on this 30-plant challenge with fresh resolve and celebrate when you crush it!
Still struggling with planning ahead or left with a fridge full of greens at the end of the week?
Our dietitian team is here to help you! I’d love to support you with creating new healthy routines to optimize your digestive health.