Ep.57 – Should we be eating 30 plants a week
19 Jun, 2024

Episode Intro

When I finish working with my clients, if they're feeling good, I often help them expand out their diet using the 30 plants a week target. They often worry this is massively unachievable, especially if they've been restricting the types of fruits and veg and grains that they eat for years. A few weeks into trying to hit this new target of 30 plant points a week, they can normally see how achievable it actually is.


Podcast transcript

Should we eat 30 plants a week

Welcome to episode 57 of the Inside Knowledge podcast for people with IBS. I’m Anna Mapson. You’ve probably heard me talk a lot on this podcast already about the importance of diet variety to help feed our gut bacteria and cover essential nutrients that we need. So it’s really important to eat a broad and healthy balanced diet.

But a lot of people I work with who have IBS Are on a very restrictive diet, so this might feel really unachievable when we throw around things like this, 30 plant-based foods a week. In this episode, I’m gonna go through where does that data come from? Like why would we be talking about eating 30 different types of plants, and some tips on how you can actually increase your diversity and what it actually might mean for you in the real world.

You also might have heard me talk last week on episode 56 about advice that I often give that you can ignore. And this was one of the topics. I said, I often talk to my clients about how to hit this 30 plant based foods a week, and at the same time, it’s not right for everyone. So this might not feel like something that you can do right now, but maybe it’s just interesting to learn about how to increase diet diversity without worrying about the specific number to hit 30 foods a week.

Okay. So if we go back to where this advice actually comes from to eat 30 different types of plants per week, it originates from the American Gut Microbiome Study, which was in 2019, I think. And what they found in that is by looking at the microbes in the stool samples of thousands of people, they found that people who ate 30 or more different types of plant based foods per week had a more diverse microbiome than those who ate 10 or less.

And we know already from lots of different studies that a more diverse Microbiota is better associated with health. So that means the more different types of the families and species of gut microbes that you have, you’re more likely to have better health outcomes. What’s also really important that they found in this study is that there was no correlation between those who were plant based, as in vegan, and those who were not. So it doesn’t mean that if you eat meat, you can’t hit this plant based target.

It was more about the diversity in dietary plant foods That was the key rather than being vegan or being plant based because you can be vegan and eat the same small selection of foods on repeat and that’s not what this is about. It’s about variety in different types of plants. The way that the gut bacteria help is that when they encounter fibre, our gut bacteria create something called short chain fatty acids.

And some of these short chain fatty acids have got anti inflammatory properties that can impact on our insulin sensitivity, our body weight. They also lower the pH in the gut, making it more acidic, which is a good thing because then we can absorb more nutrients. So, for example, minerals such as iron are better absorbed in a more acidic gut.

gut environment. So lowering the pH to make it more acidic is helpful. Um, and also these fibres feed the gut bacteria in the way that when there’s a lot of food for them to eat, then they can replicate freely. And so you have more of this good bacteria taking up space in your gut. And then there’s less space for the pathogenic bacteria, the ones which could cause you problems like bloating and gas and pain and so on.

And we also know that gut bacteria interact with our immune system and our nervous system and they also help us create some vitamins like B vitamins. They’re interacting with hormones. So it’s really important that we work on overall gut bacteria. And when I talk about bacteria here, mostly focusing on the large intestine rather than small intestine bacteria.

The fibre. comes from foods that we eat. So it’s from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, as well as pulses and legumes. So those are your main sources of foods that are going to give you a lot of fibre. Now most people in the UK only eat on average between 17 and 20 grams of fibre per day, where the recommended average intake for adults is is somewhere between 25 and 30 grams per day.

So most of us can do with increasing our fibre a little bit. And actually, you can change your gut microbes within about two weeks. So by changing your diet, and increasing the amounts of different fibres that you eat, You will start to see some improvements on your digestive tract microbes within a couple of weeks.

Increasing your fibre isn’t just associated with better digestion, there are some fibres that help to regulate your bowel movements and feeding the good bacteria, but also increasing your fibre can improve your cardiovascular health.

So increasing your fibre intake by seven grams a day, which is the equivalent to like two portions of fruit or vegetables or whole grains, that can reduce the risk of a coronary event, so you might be talking about like a heart attack or something, by nine percent. And then an extra seven grams of fibre.

can reduce the risk of a stroke by seven percent. These are really good odds. If you had a drug that was reducing the risk of a cardiovascular event like that, it would be really heavily promoted. And this is within your grasp. So you can increase your fibre. Seven grams a day. has got a massive impact on things outside of digestive health, which I think is really important to emphasise.

Now, if we look at the different types of fibre, you might have heard me before talking about soluble and insoluble fibre, and this is sort of the old way that we looked at fibre, as to whether it blends with water to form a gel, which is soluble, and that’s in like root vegetables, so sweet potatoes and carrots and things, as well as, oats and then insoluble fibre which helps to form a bulk and create like a larger stool that can really help to regulate your bowel movements by providing more content.

Then we’ve also got other things like prebiotics and these are like rapidly fermentable and these are in foods like asparagus or very firm bananas, onions and leeks and these are One of your friendly gut bacteria’s favourite foods prebiotics. And then there’s another type of fibre called resistant starch, which is in carbohydrates that have been cooked and then cooled So when you have a pasta salad or rice that’s been left over from last night or a potato salad And that will have starches that have changed their chemical breakdown by being heated and then cooling.

And because our body cannot break that down very well, again, becomes a really good source of fibre for your gut bacteria. The complicated thing is that most types of vegetables and fruits, contain soluble and insoluble fibre.

So, another way to look at it is like how On the scale, are they from more towards soluble or insoluble? Are they more towards gel forming or non gel forming? And then how rapidly fermentable they are? So you can sort of rank different foods, but just to be aware that most foods have a mix of all of these factors in them, and they’re not just one type of fibre.

in one type of food. Before I get into a few tips and tricks on how to actually expand out your fibre content and the different types of fibre, I also want to stress that it’s important to do this really slowly, so perhaps only starting with one extra gram of fibre per day, which might just be a few extra grams.

Things on your plate that you’re not eating at the moment. Because if you eat a lot of fibre quickly and you’re not used to digesting it, you can become very constipated and have a lot of gas. And if you are somebody who has IBS, and that’s probably why you’re listening to this podcast, you. It’s definitely something that you don’t want is excessive gas, more constipation or more irritation to your gut and diarrhea.

So do remember to drink some water and also just keep up the slow reintroduction of foods rather than jumping into suddenly eating 10 different types of foods next week. If we then look at how to count this 30 What I suggest people do is write down on a piece of paper 1 to 30 and then just write down which plant foods you eat in a week.

So, for example, you can have potatoes on a Monday. And you write down potatoes. Then you might eat potatoes again, but you can’t count them more than once. And every day, you can have, for example, beans and pulses. And normally, you can only count them once in your five a day.

If we’re looking at the five a day target, but you can count them twice in terms of your plant points if they are different beans and pulses. So you could have lentils at lunchtime and then for dinner you might have some baked beans which are haricot beans. A plant point that we’re going to add up to 30, we’re normally looking at a portion of fruit and vegetables, which is around 80 grams.

So if you have a handful of carrots, that is probably about one portion of carrots, 80 grams, which is roughly one of your five a day. If we’re looking at the five a day target, and then if you’re looking at your plant points, that would just be one point Then again, you can’t have carrots later in the week, uh, or you can eat carrots again, but you can’t count them as towards your target of 30.

It gets a little bit more complicated with foods that you only eat a small amount of. Like, for example, with herbs and spices, because these do all count towards your 30 different plant points. So for example, an easy way to do it is to think about each spice or herb that you might add to your foods would count for quarter of a point.

So over the week, if you have four different spices, you can have one extra point that’s just based on spice. I’m talking about things like dried, cinnamon, cumin, garam masala, anything else that you add to your food that you’re not necessarily eating 80 grams of it. And the same thing might apply to fresh green herbs like parsley, coriander, basil, things like that.

So they’re all still really good for you, really good to include and can help you meet your target. The other thing that also helps that people are surprised about is grains. So, wheat will also count as well as rice and oats and quinoa and millet and other grains that you might use. Now, ideally, you will use whole grains.

grain products, so like brown bread or brown pasta and brown rice, because there is a little bit more nutrition involved in these foods rather than the stripped back, polished version which only contains the center of the grain rather than the whole grain. So those would be counted as one point again.

So you can have something made with wheat, which might be bread or pasta. And then of course you can eat that again later in the week, but you’re only going to count the point once. So let’s move on to how to actually increase your diversity. I start off most of my clients just saying, can you record what you are eating now?

Write down 1 to 30, and then write down how many of these things you eat. Then what’s quite helpful is either to underline it in different colour, or rewrite the list, and say how many fruits have you eaten, how many vegetables, how many different grains, how many nuts and seeds, and how many beans and pulses.

And then look for opportunities where you can increase your diversity. If you only ever eat oranges and apples, and you don’t eat any other fruit, Maybe this is the focus area for you for the next week. If you are someone who doesn’t eat nuts, maybe that’s where you can also start to get some additional variety and diversity.

So once you know which area you want to work on, you can also then just think about how can you increase small amounts of diversity as well as bigger portions. So what I mean is if you’re someone who gets on okay with onions, and onions are not your massive IBS trigger, Try swapping out your normal white onions for red onions.

They are counted as different points in the plant diversity because they have different phytonutrients. So red onions, for example, have got things like quercetin in them, which are really good for your immune systems, particularly people who get allergies. And they have different sets of nutrients for different colors, basically.

So white onions are different to red onions. The same thing with cabbage. You can have red cabbage or white cabbage or curly cabbage or the sweetheart cabbage. All of these would be helpful and different ways to try and expand your diversity. Other things you can do is just make some simple mix ups.

with the current grains that you eat, you don’t have to necessarily stop eating rice, but how about you have rice that’s also mixed with quinoa or bulgur wheat? These are different types of grains that have different nutrients and different fibre profiles too, and so you can mix and match these grains together.

That can be another way to ease yourself into different tastes. Sometimes you can buy rice. pre made packets with mixed grains, and that might be a gentle way for you to start experimenting a little bit with certain different types of grains. Now, other ways to increase your diversity is literally just to start eating more.

So what I would say is add one extra piece of fruit to your lunch maybe, and then you’re Add one extra vegetable to your evening meal and then you’ve got two of your five a day already that you weren’t eating before. Another way to expand out your diversity is to eat a mixed food. And what I mean by that is like a soup with lots of different things that you just clear out the fridge, chuck it all in, cook it down, make some nice flavourings and you’ve got a vegetable soup.

Blend it up and you don’t even know what’s in it. The same thing with a smoothie. If you like smoothies, you know, maybe just Put an extra bit of vegetable or fruit into your normal morning smoothie, just to add and bulk things out a little bit. Also, another thing you can do is sprinkle some ground nuts and seeds on top of your salads or your meals.

It’s just about thinking, how can I add more diversity to every meal that I have?

 don’t worry about perfection, just focus on variety, adding little bits where you can. Don’t worry necessarily about tracking it all as well. So a lot of people I work with can get a little bit obsessive about tracking.

And I know that I can fall into that kind of category as well. It’s like, you don’t want to write it down if it’s not correct. But the, the tracking of it in the beginning is just to give you an idea of where you are and then What I would like you to get from this more is that it’s more about a mindset, about Trying new things, expanding your diet, and increasing the variety of different types of fibres, colours on your plate.

Like, just really trying to mix things up a little bit, rather than hitting a specific number. Part of the issue that I have with this 30 foods a week, is that they only show us the data for people who ate more than 30 plants a week, and people who had 10 or less. But we don’t know what the difference was when people were eating 10 plants.

20 foods. Also, this was a massive study based on thousands of people and they asked them a set of questions in a food frequency questionnaire, like how many times do you eat beans this week? How many times did you eat bread this week? So they’re relying on people remembering, which is not necessarily accurate.

And we know from big, uh, nutrition studies that there’s always a little bit of give and take with people’s accuracy of diet recall. This is why the number 30 isn’t as essential and I don’t want you to be hung up thinking everything will be fine if I can just hit this 30 foods a week every week because we don’t actually know where that sweet spot was in terms of the effort and the stress required to do this and the cost as well for some people compared to the benefit that comes in.

Is it when you eat 20 types of food or more? Uh, what would happen if you were eating 15? Like we don’t know where the cutoff point is for So it’s definitely, we know that variety is better. Uh, you’re definitely likely to hit more of your nutrient intake as well when you’re eating more of a varied diet. However, don’t get hung up on the 30.

Other tips for shopping, I would say try to buy mixed foods where possible. So if you’re looking at buying some seeds, how about buying a packet that’s mixed seeds already? If you’re looking at buying beans, you can get tins with already mixed beans in there instead of just one variety.

Thinking about adding variety to your plate as well. Beans can be a really good addition to meat based meals. So where you already have, a chilli, for example, with beef mince, add some beans to that as well. If you’re having a pasta sauce with mince, add some lentils in as well. It bulks it out, adds the fibre, and gives you a little bit more texture.

variety to hit your plant points. And talking of beans and seeds and things as well, you can get pasta that is actually made from lentils or chickpeas or buckwheat. And this can add a little bit of diversity because you know, as I mentioned, you can only count wheat based foods once. So how about having pasta that’s made from chickpea flour or from lentils?

Now for some people with IBS, that can cause a bit of additional bloating, but you don’t know until you’ve tried it. And how about if you have half lentil pasta and half wheat pasta? Is that okay? Can you tolerate that? You might be surprised that small amounts are better for your digestion than just eating the same set of foods all the time.

Where you’re adding a little bit of variety, you’re less likely to hit a flare up. trigger because you’re only increasing small amounts and you will train your digestive system to break these down the more of them you eat. You can also just mix up the types of foods that you normally get. If you always get a certain brand of apple, try a different one.

The same with mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes. There are lots of varieties of all of these foods that you can play around with and they do have some different nutrient profiles as well. Also adding things like Pickled veg or fermented foods to your meals can be very helpful. One of my tricks when I’m in a rush is to have, I just have like cheese on toast, and then I will also add a couple of spoonfuls of sauerkraut on the side that I’ve made, because the sauerkraut is just giving me one of my portions of vegetables through the day, which is cabbage based, and it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s there, and it’s always ready because it’s pickled.

So it doesn’t matter if I haven’t been shopping, it’s always just there in the fridge. And a few tips for people who don’t like certain vegetables or flavours. Can you manage to blend some of this food up into a sauce where you won’t notice it? So typical foods that I blend up a lot for my kids include celery and courgette.

And I will put them in with the pasta sauce, blend it up and then add the protein. So They don’t really notice that they’re eating celery or courgette which they would normally fully reject. So you can think about what do you like but you don’t eat very much of and eat more of that. What can you eat that you can kind of hide away a little bit that you don’t have to notice that you’re eating but could still give you some additional plant points.

And then also just think about vegetables and fruits in general. in the supermarket or in the green grocers that you notice and you’ve never tried before. Maybe buy one of those and look up a new recipe and experiment and try something new. If you’re interested in learning more about how to eat a varied diet and how to get off an IBS restricted diet, get in touch with me.

That is my specialism is helping people with IBS. eat a better and more varied diet. And I do that through my three month gut reset. So I can work with people all over the world. So you don’t have to be UK based. The time difference can be a bit of an issue sometimes, but we can normally work around it.

And I would love to hear from you. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can contact me through the email address on my website, which is linked in the show notes. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Inside Knowledge podcast. Better digestion for everyone.

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