In 2018 I read Robynne Chutkan’s book The Microbiome Solution. It influenced a mind-set shift in the way I live my life and has helped shape the food choices I make today. I hadn’t previously been aware of the significance of gut health to my overall health and wellbeing. The book set me on the path to embracing natural bio yogurt for breakfast as well as a wide range of fermented foods and those containing indigestible plant fibre to nourish my gut. So when I heard a recommendation on a podcast to forget 5 a day and shoot to consume 30 different plant based foods a week, I was intrigued. My first inclination was to establish what (if, any) research this was grounded in.
The research was easy to track down. In May 2018 a study called ‘American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research’ led by Daniel McDonald set out to establish what the differentiating factors are in influencing the make-up of somebody’s microbiome. The study compared samples from over 10,000 participants (each parting with $99 dollars to receive a test kit).
Samples provided were largely representative of the USA, UK and Australia, but included participants from across the rest of the world. Looking specifically at the diversity of plants on diet the study analysed fecal samples from 1,596 individuals. Alongside self-reported dietary information, the data suggested that the number of unique plant-based foods consumed was associated with microbial diversity and those eating more than 30 types of plants per week (41 people) had a more diverse gut microbiome than those eating less than ten (44 people).
The study findings inspired me to start tracking plant-based food diversity in my own diet. I did this on a usual week with no huge effort to vary my diet any more than usual. I consider myself to have a substantially varied diet, so in tracking my food consumption daily I was expecting to see results that left me close to the magic thirty. Disappointment set in at the end of 7 days when I could only tot up a total of 20 fruits and vegetables. It later dawned on me I hadn’t included nuts, seeds or grains.
Expert nutritionists break the plant-based food groups down with differing emphases; however, for clarity you can include items from any of the following groups; fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, legumes (beans, peas, seeds), nuts, whole grains.
I tried again during the second week of January 2020. Again, I didn’t pre-plan meals with the 30 per week goal in mind, but I was more conscious of increasing the variety. I stormed day 1 racking up 11 different plant-based foods. Day 2 was a little more tricky as there was little variety in my breakfast and lunch from the previous day. As the week progressed I was able to add between 3 and 4 different food items into my diet daily, but it was hard to hit the high numbers and I again fell short. This pattern continued until I stopped tracking.
Fast forward to April 2021 and I was stopped in my tracks by another podcast, this time Tom Bilyeu’s Impact Theory on ‘How your microbiome affects everything from your brain to your metabolism’ with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz. Dr. B’s philosophy is based on food diversity (yay!) and he too referred to Daniel McDonald’s American Gut Project. Citing the magic number of 30 different plant-based foods to include in your diet on a weekly basis, Dr B’s tips were smoothie bowls, alongside his F GOALS. (F for fibre, G for greens and whole grains, O for omega 3 super seeds, A for aromatics (onions, garlic etc), L for legumes, and S for sulforaphane (found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts).
Listening to DR B was enough to reinvigorate my appetite for shooting for thirty, so I’m all geared up to go again and will report back…