Kickstarting new healthy-eating habits can be a daunting process, especially when you’ll inevitably see your grocery list getting longer. But too often we stick to the same produce, products and recipes we like and are used to. Read on and we might change your mind when it comes to diet diversity.
The gut-brain axis
A key contributor to the gut-brain axis is the gut microbiome. This refers to the trillions of microorganisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract. They play a key role in digestion, nutrient absorption, metabolism, bodyweight management, immune regulation and mood. Our gut microbiomes start developing in the womb, and they continue to evolve throughout our lives. Since they are always changing, diet and lifestyle are both modifiable factors that contribute to our gut microbiome development.
The more the merrier
In terms of our overall health, it is through that diversity in the amount and types of bacteria in the gut can lead to better health outcomes. All of our gut microbiomes are unique, but if the balance of the gut bacteria is disrupted, it could lead to inflammation, a risk factor for mental illness. If you’re looking to improve your mental health, thinking about your gut microbiome is key.
What is diet diversity?
When we think about the diversity of what we’re eating, 30 is considered the magic number. The American Gut Project found a number of health benefits associated with eating 30 different plant foods per week. This is in comparison to those who ate 10 plant foods or less per week.
Participants who consumed 30 or more plants had much more diversity in the gut microbiome. They also showed an increase in the number of bacteria which produce compounds called short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids are linked to reduced inflammation and better mental health outcomes. The nutrients in plant foods are also known to play a role in the production of serotonin, which is linked to mood.
Eating 30 plant foods every week may seem like a really big ask, but remember, fruit and vegetables aren’t the only contributors. Plant foods also include wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes and olive oil. And aside from the benefits they provide for mental and gut health, plant foods are also good sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
My tips for better diet diversity
- We know that 30 plants per week is overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with starting with a smaller goal. Start by keeping a food diary for one week. Count how many plant foods you eat that week and try to match or increase that number the next week. Continue increasing from there.
- Enhance meals you already love by adding more veggies to the mix. For example, you can add grated carrots, mushrooms and lentils to spaghetti bolognese. This is also budget-friendly as it helps to bulk up your meals to last longer.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s okay if you don’t reach this target right away or even every single week. Consistency instead of perfection is key.