30 plants a week: how realistic is this recommendation?

‘Five-a-day ’has long been the standard when it comes to eating well and living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. However, this steadfast guide is now facing scrutiny, giving way to a new recommendation that advocates for trying to eat 30 different plants in your weekly diet. The general argument behind this is that increased variation across your diet, particularly when it comes to plant-based foods is highly beneficial for your gut health. 

But why should you care about your gut so much? 

A short answer is this: The gut, often referred to as the ‘second brain’ has been linked to having substantial impacts on overall health, the immune system, mental health, skin and more. For more resources on this, I would recommend starting by looking at this article which analyses the significance of the gut in-depth. 

I stumbled upon the idea of aiming for 30 plants a week in a Guardian article from May 2022. What intrigued me was the challenge it posed towards traditional notions of health and diet, not just in terms of ‘five-a-day,’ but also in rejecting ideas of restriction and limitation. Instead, it advocates for diets that are characterised by abundance and a more-is-more mentality. This approach to healthy eating allows for adaptability to individual lifestyles, preferences, and tastes while steering clear of monotonous meal plans,.

After first reading about this in 2022, I started making small gradual changes to my eating habits to increase the plant intake, but I never actively quantified the number of plants consumed weekly; I merely assumed I was hovering around the recommended figure. But at the start of this year, I was suddenly inundated across social media and news outlets with content about how to eat for my gut in 2024. While this idea was not new to me, it made me increasingly interested in how close I am to the recommended number, and how realistic it is to eat this way in university and with a limited budget (fruit is expensive). 

So here’s my perspective on it: what I eat (and whether I reach 30), what counts as a ‘plant’, how realistic it is, and my tips to increase your number. 

How many plants do I eat? 

Now the first step to answering this question, is actually a different question all together – what counts as a plant?.   

Now this initially seemed like a pretty silly question to be asking, but the more I began thinking about it, I began to wonder about spices, oils, dips and spreads. After a fairly quick Google search, and referencing this BBC article, I reached the conclusion that if it *might* count, it probably does. This includes spices, teas, and even plant-based foods that might not immediately be considered as ‘healthy’ such as chocolate or red wine. The only stipulation is that you must consume a substantial amount of the plant itself. For instance, dark chocolate counts, while milk or white chocolate doesn’t due to a lower concentration of the plant. This is a grey area, and personal interpretation is permissible. Items like flour and sugar in baking were excluded from my count.

This done, I revisited everything I ate in the past week and how many plants were eaten within that period.

Fresh fruit / veg 

  • Spinach 
  • Rocket 
  • Strawberries 
  • Raspberries 
  • Cucumber 
  • Carrots 
  • Celery 
  • Pepper 
  • Cherry tomatoes 
  • Sweet potato
  • Onions 
  • Garlic 
  • Lemons 

Non-Perishables 

  • Oats 
  • Almond butter 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Butter beans 
  • Chia seeds 
  • Olive oil 
  • Dark chocolate 
  • Rice 
  • Tomato paste 
  • Tinned plum tomatoes (do different forms of tomatoes count separately?) 

Spices

  • Chili flakes 
  • Paprika 
  • Harrisa 
  • Cumin 
  • Cinnamon 
  • Ginger 
  • Thyme 
  • Oregano 

Drinks / Liquids 

  • Black tea 
  • Peppermint tea 
  • Red wine 

Total = 32 

How realistic is this? 

While compiling the list, I initially felt optimistic about meeting the 30-plant target. However, there comes the question of how realistic this is long term, particularly considering this is only a week’s insight and I do usually vary my foods and meals, some weeks having significantly more fruit and vegetables than others. 

Financially, a lot of the items on the list are infrequent purchases for me, such as the non-perishables and spices. It is only the list of 10-15 fresh items that are weekly purchases and risk increasing the price of a weekly grocery shop. I think the best way to offset this risk is by leaning towards cheaper and longer-lasting root vegetables, frozen fruits and most importantly meal planning as this will help avoid waste and excess buying, and allow you to plan your food intelligently. 

From a lifestyle perspective, I think this can be easily achieved as a lot of these items are basic staples, and can act as a base that you can make countless meals out of. I think the best way to consistently achieve this number is simply by consciously buying a range of plant-based foods and making them accessible to yourself daily – personally, I know if I had all of these items in my fridge and cupboards they would be eaten at some point, it’s just about making sure I actually have them to reach for when it comes to making my dinner. 

What if I didn’t hit 30 plants? 

Even though I successfully reached the suggested minimum of 30 plants, I recognise that achieving this consistently is a challenge. Some weeks will inevitably fall short. Understanding that 30 is a recommended minimum rather than a cap, I acknowledge that my gut health can benefit from surpassing this number.

To try and boost your plant intake, start by looking at the smaller items which aren’t big purchases and can be easily added into various meals – this means adding to your spice drawer, looking for more dips/spreads (think hummus, pesto, etc) and then trying to incorporate them into your meals. 

I also think buying mixes of nuts, fruits, etc. to have as snacks or just add to your diet. And, the biggest thing I’ve found helpful with eating more fruit/veg generally is trying to add one or two things to each dinner you make; this becomes way easier than you might think to sneak in some extra spinach to almost anything, or extra carrots and celery to a basic pasta sauce. 

I was honestly surprised when compiling all of this when I realised the breadth and flexibility within the general ‘rules’ of this recommendation, and how I was already hitting the mark without much conscious thought or effort. With this in mind, I think it’s not only a useful exercise but something I will continue to strive towards and hopefully increase with some more meal planning and buying another spice or two. 

 

Featured Imaged: Geraud Pfeiffer on Pexels 

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