When I was getting my finance degree, there were some lessons the professors emphasized more than others. After “buy low, sell high”, the biggest was “diversify, diversify, diversify”. Yes, this was in reference to one’s financial portfolio, but this is sage advice across so many areas: friends, workforce, and as I’m about to get into, diet. Specifically, plants.
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The importance of plant diversity
While gut health is still a relatively new phenomenon, don’t underestimate the importance it plays in our overall health. In fact, our gut microbiome is responsible for the vast majority of our immune system, which is one huge reason it’s so important to take good care of it.
How do we do that? No differently than how we take care of ourselves! Nourish your gut with foods to help it thrive, the same ones that help you thrive. The bacteria in our guts need fiber, but it’s not enough to take a fiber supplement and call it a day. There are so many different strains of bacteria, and like our stock portfolios, we want diversity to achieve an excellent return on our gut health.
This is because there are different types of fiber found in plants: prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic. In order to get all of them, the number of plants we eat is more important than the number of fiber grams we eat.
How many different plants should you eat?
Ideally, we want to take in at least 30 different types of plant foods per week. Yes, the amount of fiber we take in is important too, but as I mentioned, it’s easy to hit a fiber number with a supplement. This won’t give us the diversity we’re looking for to achieve optimal health.
If you have a diverse number of plants in your diet, odds are you’re getting enough fiber. However, if you’re curious, the American Heart Association recommends 25-30 grams of fiber per day. For reference, most Americans eat only 10-15 grams of fiber. Also, this recommendation hasn’t been updated since at least the 90s, before “gut microbiome” became a thing, and so I consider this more of a jumping off point.
Did you know our ancestors ate up to 100 grams of fiber per day? While we often associate the paleo diet with eating meat and eggs, realistically speaking, it wasn’t common to eat a diet heavy in animal foods because our predecessors had to hunt – and share – their meat. Most of their diet was actually plant-based. This makes sense because animal foods don’t contain any fiber so they had to be getting those 100 grams from somewhere.
What’s your number?
A great way to see if you’re getting enough diversity of plants in your diet is to keep track of what you’re eating for a week. The term “plants” refers to vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. I was curious for myself because I’m such a creature of habit.
What I realized is I’m able to achieve plant diversity with little twists on my daily staples like oatmeal and avocado toast. I’ll switch up my oatmeal toppings with a scoop of nut butter one day and coconut yogurt the next, or I’ll switch up the ingredients by adding different plant foods each time, such as hemp, flax or chia seeds.
With my avocado toast, I’ll change up the bread from a sprouted wheat to a gluten-free sourdough. Some days, I’ll top it with arugula or microgreens or tomato and red onion. Sometimes, if I’m feeling extra hungry, I’ll have a side salad. So you see, it’s the same concept, yet different plants.
Also, because I eat a predominantly plant-based diet, getting to 30 was easier than I realized. If tracking for an entire week seems like a lot of work, I challenge you to try it for one day. I did this and got to 28! As a result, I feel confident I reach at least 30 different plants in any given week.
If you try this and only get 4 or 5 plants in a day, it may be worth tracking for the whole week to see if it’s time to branch out. Do it for your gut, your immune system and your overall health!