You’ve probably heard it before — plants are an important part of a healthy diet. Not necessarily new information, right? But if you find yourself choosing the same steamed broccoli night after night or love a solid kale salad but haven’t tried adding a scoop of sea vegetables, then it might be time to consider expanding your plant palate a bit.
But why is it important to include a diverse range of plants in your diet?
For starters, my core dietary philosophy is “Diversity of Plants.” I’ve used it with my patients with great success in healing disease. I’ve also used it in my own life and without further effort lost 20 kilograms — all while eating food in abundance!
And there’s science to back it up, too. In a 2018 study published by mSystems (a journal from the American Society for Microbiology), there was a clear cut winner as the strongest predictor of a healthy gut and that was the diversity of plants in the diet. What exactly did that mean to the researchers? The study — which was the largest ever gut microbiome study — defined “diversity” as whether or not you eat 30 different fruits and vegetables per week.
It makes so much sense. Every single plant has a unique mix of nutrients: fibre, plant protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. And then there is my personal favourite, phytochemicals, which are plant based compounds that have been found to offer amazing healing qualities, including reducing the risk of chronic disease.
For example, red plants (e.g. tomatoes and watermelon) have lycopene which may help reduce the risk of heart attacks and certain types of cancer, most notably prostate cancer, according to a 2010 study published by the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology.
Orange plants, like carrots and oranges (obviously), are another example. They contain beta-carotene which is a precursor for vitamin A, a nutrient that Today’s Dietitian noted promotes healthy skin, immune system and eyes.
And the same goes for many of the vibrant colours you see in plants — they are the result of their phytochemicals. So, when you hear people saying, “eat the rainbow,” this is the reason why. It’s a ninja way of encouraging “Diversity of Plants.” No matter the expression you choose, the equation is simple — eating a variety of plants results in your body receiving a wide range of the good stuff.
This medley of nutrients in each plant, of course, also points to something larger: No two plants are the same, which means there are strengths and weaknesses to every food. No plant has the perfect blend of all the protein, fat, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. But if we combine them, then we’re neutralizing the weaknesses and enjoying the health benefits that come from all those different strengths.
So, we know that eating a variety of foods is a more surefire way of providing our bodies with a wide range of what it needs to thrive. But there’s another element about plant based diversity that’s worth considering — you have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of delicious foods in abundance! In addition to fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices are also plants which means you have a variety of options for adding plants to your diet and taking your overall health to the next level. All it takes is starting with one recipe to find what mix suits your palate and makes both your taste buds and your gut microbes dance the night away.
The hardest part now will be deciding what to try first. The good news? You have a bounty of plant firsts in your future!
Featured Image Source: @thrivingonplants