Research has shown that it’s not just important to eat enough plants, the variety of plants you eat also matters!
Keep reading to find out why variety is so important and how to make it a priority in your diet.
Why is variety important?
Fibre from the foods we eat feeds the helpful bacteria in our gut (microbiome). Fibre is key to keep your gut bacteria fed, happy and healthy! Plant foods (or fibre containing foods) include:
Eating a variety of foods can help you develop a gut with many different types of bacteria. This is important for gut health.
How much variety do I need?
A large study1 showed that people who ate 30 or more types of plants per week had a more diverse microbiome compared to people who ate 10 types of plants a week.
Over the next week, try tracking how many plant foods you eat. A good goal is to increase by a few plant types each week until you’re hitting the target of 30.
If you’ve been recommended a specific diet plan that avoids certain plant foods, don’t worry. Just try to get as much variety as you can within your diet guidelines. Once you are able to transition to having more foods, make variety a priority.
How do I get more plant variety?
- Mix up your meals.
- Enjoy meals and snacks that include multiple types of plant foods.
- Have a mixed fruit salad rather than one type of fruit.
- Use a mix of 3-4 types of vegetables in your next recipe or as a side dish instead of just 1-2 types. Check out our veggie bolognese recipe below.
- Nuts are a great snack but mixed nuts are even better!
- Try cooking a mixture of grains to have with meals, rather than just having one type. Rice, quinoa, wild rice, farro and millet all mix well.
- Cycle your shopping.
- For example, buy a bag of spinach for salads this week but buy romaine lettuce next week and kale the week after.
- If you have a small household and can’t buy too many types of produce at once without risking spoilage, buy products that last well and are already mixed together.
- Look for frozen fruits and vegetables. You can easily find pre-mixed fruits and vegetables or buy multiple single types to create your own mixes that won’t spoil quickly.
- Find a grain mix that already contains multiple types. This saves you time with cooking and ensures you get more variety without any extra work!
- Nuts and seeds spoil quickly if not eaten fast enough. Look for pre-mixed nuts or buy very small amounts to make your own mix with. It is best to keep nuts and seeds in the fridge or freezer.
- Expand your horizons
- If you see something new at the store, give it a try!
- Bulk stores or aisles are a great place to try small amounts of shelf-stable plant foods to make sure you like them before buying a larger amount.
- If a food is new for you, start with a small amount and work your way up slowly to make sure you can tolerate it well.
Plant Packed Veggie Bolognese (serves 4)
This incredible sauce has 9 types of plants!
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) olive oil (plain or garlic flavoured)
- 1 onion, finely chopped or 1 cup (250 mL) green onion tops, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves (as tolerated)
- ½ cup (125 mL) carrots, finely chopped
- ½ cup (125 mL) bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 cup (250 mL) mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 cup (250 mL) zucchini, finely chopped
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup (60 mL) tomato paste
- 2 tsp (10 mL) dried oregano
- 1 tsp (5mL) dried basil
- ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
- ½ tsp (2 mL) pepper
- ½ cup (125 mL) split red lentils
- ½ cup (125 mL) broth or water
- ½ cup walnuts , finely chopped
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and veggies and sauté until everything has softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, salt, pepper, lentils and broth. Stir together and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the lentils and the veggies are soft. Stir the sauce every few minutes and add more broth/water as needed if the sauce is becoming too thick or anything is sticking to the bottom.
- Once the sauce is done, add in the walnuts and heat through. Serve over cooked pasta.
TIP: if you have a food processor, use it to help you chop the veggies nice and small, to a texture that resembles ground meat. If you do not have a food processor, try to chop the veggies as small as you can.
1 McDonald D et al. American Gut: an open platform for citizen science microbiome research. mSystems 3: e00031-18. https://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems .00031-18.