Recently, I was listening to a podcast with Tim Spector, who is a professor of genetics and an author. He mentioned that we should eat a variety of 30 plants per week as a guide to getting a cross section of the nutrients and phytochemicals that we need. That sounds like a lot of plant power and while I know I eat a variety, I wasn’t sure exactly how many!
So, I decided to count how many I ate last week and share that information with you. Happily, I counted 47 and was relieved that I was “walking the walk”. As should be the case of course, since I encourage other people to eat healthier! Bear in mind that “plants” includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and even good quality coffee, which comes from a bean! (Just remember that one coffee a day max mid-morning is best, if coffee agrees with you.)
I have included a graphic below which details my plant powered list for that particular week. I have also noted in which meals I used these foods for reference. Making mixed salads, stews and soups makes it really easy to consume a wide variety across seven days.
To begin with, keep it simple and just consider making sure you eat a wider variety of colours, and you will be doing well. If you are on medications, or are living with any health conditions, check with your GP if there are any foods you need to avoid. Even in that case, nature provides plant power in so many forms, you can still find options with the amazing nutrients and phytochemicals to enhance your health.
However, let’s start with the “why” plants are so vital for good health…
What are Nutrients
A nutrient does exactly what it says on the tin and is a substance which nourishes our bodies. They are essential for the maintenance of life and for growth. Note the word ESSENTIAL – this is very important. It means that we must consume them for our long-term health. Our bodies are amazing and will try to keep going, even when we are being hard on them. However, eventually the effects will show up as symptoms of disease.
Macro nutrients are required in larger amounts eg protein, fat, fibre and carbohydrates. Micro nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants (which include some vitamins) and polyphenols (which are also great anti-oxidants) are equally essential but needed in smaller amounts. Whole unprocessed food (animals and plants) will contain both macro and micro nutrients. It is worth remembering that animals and fish get their nutrients, which we then eat, from eating plants or from other animals who eat plants. So, plant power is fundamentally important for our health.
What are Phytochemicals
Phytochemicals, or phytonutrients, are found in all plants (vegetables, fruit, beans, herbs, spices and grains). They are part of a plant’s own immune system which helps to protect it from bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. So, when we eat phytochemicals, we can benefit from this plant powered protection, even though they are not essential for us to stay alive in the same way that vitamins and minerals are. However, they can help to protect our cells and DNA from being damaged, which then contributes to keeping us well.
“Phytochemicals have antioxidant properties and offer protection that decreases the risk of many diseases,” says Vijaya Surampudi, MD, a physician nutrition specialist at UCLA Health. “They help with neutralizing free radicals, which can damage the DNA.”
The Power of Plants
So, eating a variety of plants every week is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Being healthy gives us our best chance to live our best life! When you check out my graphic, you will see that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Add colourful whole foods into the shopping trolley, use some simple recipes and take it from there!
Another tip is to have the ingredients visible so that you remember to use them. There are recipes for soups, stews and salads on my website and I promise they are all very simple, if you don’t have much time to cook. My list of 47 excludes the herbal teas I drank last week and these can also contain plant goodness. If you buy a good quality herbal tea, they will contain phytochemicals and contribute to your hydration.
If you are currently not eating many vegetables, increase your portions slowly to allow your digestive tract to adjust to the additional fibre. You could even make a start by retrieving those amazing herbs and spices lurking in your cupboard, and using them in your cooking!