Are you eating your way to 25?
Most of us who have an interest and knowledge in nutrition will know about the importance of ensuring a healthy microbiome. We need to support the beneficial bacteria that reside in our digestive system to ensure they’re working for us – helping us digest, synthesising vitamins and keeping us well.
The best way to support them is to feed them! The beneficial bacteria like vegetable fibre and the wider the variety, the better. Recent studies into the microbiome show that native tribes, who are still living a hunter-gatherer existence, host a much more diverse bacteria species, variety and number, than those following a modern Western diet.
These tribes are also free from the digestive conditions (such as IBD and bowel cancer) that plague so many in the West. This gives further weight to the evidence that the more diverse the microbiome, the more protective they are. It is thought that one of the reasons for the tribes’ microbiome diversity is the vast amount of plant matter they consume.
This is where the "25 Veg Variety Challenge" comes in. We all know that we should be aiming to eat five vegetables a day, but how many of those vegetables do you repeat on a weekly basis? Most people eat about eight or nine different vegetable varieties – not very exciting for our microbiome.
So can you aim to eat five different vegetables every day – meaning that over the course of the week you eat at least 25 varieties? Quantity doesn't really matter too much (portion size of most things is great, but a few bites will also count).
Depending on the veg, different varieties of the same one will count, for example spring onions and white onions count as two, shiitake mushrooms and button mushrooms count as two, but purple beetroot and orange beetroot (or carrots) would count as one. Don't forget to add in fresh herbs - fresh parsley, basil, coriander, ginger, garlic all count.
Focus on vegetables, not fruit. Cooking methods don't really matter either - steaming, raw, roasting, soup, stir frying - just not juiced or deep fried please!
Take note of your digestion system at the start and end of the week – your transit time should increase and many people report an increase in energy, possibly due to the increase in nutrients you’ll be absorbing.
This challenge should be fun and eye-opening, but be cautious with portion size if you suffer from SIBO or are on a low FODMAPs diet. If you are unsure, contact a nutrition professional, they will help you understand your portion sizes and the benefits of eating vegetables.
Remember - Happy bugs, happy digestive system, healthy host – you!
For more information about the microbiome in native African tribes read the works of Jeff Leach or Justin Sonnenburg.
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About Laura Southern
Laura Southern DipION is a London based Nutritional Therapist. She is passionate about the power of food on health. Laura's specialisms are digestive health, skin, weight management and children's health. She is warm, understanding, and gives practical, tailored advice. Laura also runs workshops and features in the media.