What Is The 30 Plants Per Week Challenge?

Forget five a day, scientists have said getting 30 portions of fruit and vegetables a week is even better for your health – and that eating a large variety of plants is just as key. Yep, it looks like there’s a new mantra in town: 30 plants a week, also known as the ’30 plant challenge’ or ‘plant points’.

What is the 30 plant challenge?

The challenge comes from the likes of expert dietician and NHS Clinical Lead, Catherine Rabess (author of the book, ) who quotes a 2018 study that found people who ate a variety of plant foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, boasted better gut health. Led by the British and American Gut Project, and run by the University of California San Diego in the US alongside Dr Tim Spector of King’s College London in the UK, the study offered a new message: instead of “eat five a day”, they started saying “eat 30 plants a week.”

The Results

The advice to eat 30 plants a week is based on the project’s study of thousands of people (well, more specifically, their poop) and found those who ate a wider variety of plant foods – fruits and vegetables, but also seeds, nuts, whole grains and spices – had a more diverse gut microbiome. A wider variety of gut bacteria provides a basis for better overall health and well-being: greater resilience to withstand pathogens, better digestion and better brain function.

“Don’t fall into the trap of eating the same meal every day, even though that makes life easy. At least have three different breakfasts, three different lunches and three different dinners and rotate them across the week. However ideally try the 30 plant foods per week challenge,” says Nutritionist Edwina Ekins. “Research shows that those that eat 30 different plant foods (compared to those that only eat 10) have a much more diverse and therefore healthier gut microbiota. A diverse gut microbiota is linked to a lower risk of many diseases including bowel cancer and diabetes.”

Now, that’s not to say getting your five servings of fruit and veggies per day is a goal to discard; eating those foods still have incredible health benefits, helps to keep our bodies topped up with vital nutrients and much, much more. But the idea behind the 30 plants a week – also known as the ‘diversity diet’ – focuses more on gut health.

How does the 30 plants challenge work?

It works by assigning every individual plant you eat one “plant point”, even if you only eat a small amount of that plant, like a couple of carrot sticks or one strawberry. Herbs, spices and garlic also count, but only for quarter of a point.

Then you have colours to consider: different coloured versions of plants, like red and yellow capsicums, count separately as a point each, since different coloured plants contain slightly different amounts of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. But some items don’t count at all – like white rice and potatoes (they spike your blood sugar too much, according to Spector, and contain less fibre and nutrients than other plants).

“Eating 30 plants a week means eating 30 different varieties of plants, but this doesn’t prescribe serving sizes,” says Rabess. “It can seem tougher to achieve this if you are cooking for one, but remember that foods do not always need to be fresh. Tinned and frozen foods are my go-to, and they are extremely cost-effective and a great way to limit waste.”

“Each different variety of plant that you eat counts as one plant point. Even herbs and spices are a quarter of a point each,” she adds. “So, if you eat a banana, an apple and a carrot, you would have earned three plant points. If you had porridge and sprinkled on cinnamon and nutmeg, the added spices would total half a plant point.”

The more plant points you earn = the more diverse your diet is.

What counts as a plant point?

Vegetables such as:

  • aubergine
  • broccoli
  • carrot
  • spinach
  • cabbage
  • onion
  • pepper
  • tomato (okay, yes it’s technically a fruit but…)

Fruit such as:

  • avocados
  • berries
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • figs
  • kiwis

Some legumes such as:

  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • broad beans
  • pinto beans
  • soybeans or edamame

Some grains such as:

  • quinoa
  • barley
  • brown rice

Some nuts and seeds such as:

  • cashews
  • almonds
  • brazil nuts
  • chia seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • walnuts
  • pistachios

Herbs and spices (whether they’re fresh or dried out) such as:

  • mint
  • basil
  • parsley
  • sage
  • ginger
  • nutmeg
  • paprika
  • saffron
  • turmeric

Do supplements count?

According to Nutritionist, Edwina Ekins: not really. She says that many of the marketing claims around these products are exaggerated and that most supplements are best suited to people with deficiencies – not as part of an overall diet.

“Greens powders are a hot topic at the moment: There are several on the market all claiming to have benefits for immune, energy, gut health and blood pressure, but the research is in its infancy, and we cannot support these claims yet,” explains Ekins. “In saying that, greens powders are packed with approximately 75 different nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, prebiotic fibres, probiotics and digestive enzymes. A greens powder may act as a “stop gap” when our diets are insufficient.”

“These powders are certainly no substitute for real foods and we should continue to strive for two serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day, however, they make sense if someone doesn’t like vegetables, is travelling with limited access to fruit and vegetables and is suffering from energy issues despite having good sleep, drinking enough water and doing exercise,” she adds.

“There is huge cost range in greens powders, and this is not necessarily reflected in the content so read the back of the pack of at least two and makes a comparison before you purchase. Again, greens powders are not suitable for everyone, especially those on medication or pregnant or breastfeeding. Many also contain inulin or other prebiotic fibres which for some people can upset your gut. So, in summary, you don’t need a greens powder but there may be certain times when taking a greens powder would improve energy levels.”


The article by Nikolina Ilic appeared first on Women’s Health Australia.



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