Gut Health Challenge “Just literally write a chart, one to thirty.”

As heard on Today with Claire Byrne

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When it comes to our diet, most of us know we should be eating better – less meat, more seafood, more plant-based foods. It’s still something of a shock, though, to hear the latest health advice that says we should be eating thirty different fruit and vegetables over the course of a week to make sure our mortal engines are operating at peak efficiency. That’s thirty. Three-zero. 30. It’s a lot. In fact, it’s too much for Claire Byrne, as she told Louise Reynolds, dietician from the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute on Thursday morning.  

According to Louise, yes, it sounds a little daunting, but, if you’re taking on the challenge, make sure you include nuts, seeds and herbs and spices, they’re allowed and they may help get you over the line. And this fresh challenge doesn’t replace the existing nutritional advice to eat five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The difference between the two pieces of advice is that the five to seven per day can be the same fruit and veg each day, whereas with the thirty per week, it’s thirty different items of fruit and veg. So, if you have a banana every day, that’s one of your seven-a-day every day, but it’s only one of your thirty a week each week. It’s less complicated than it sounds. And it’s all about the diversity of the food we eat. Here’s Louise: 

There was a big study, the American Gut Health Study, which really shows that people who were eating more than 30 different plant-based foods in the week had a much more diverse range of these healthy bacteria in our gut.” 

Our gut health is linked to many other systems in our bodies, including overall health and our immune system, and this 30 plant-based foods a week challenge is one way to strengthen our gut micro-biome. A major aspect of our gut health, of course, relates to preventing conditions in the bowels: 

“In terms of your bowel, preventing lots of conditions, such as constipation and then, further down the line, you know, more serious conditions such as bowel cancer.” 

Claire wondered what the best way to approach the challenge is – print out a chart, stick in on your fridge and check off each food item once it’s been consumed? Knowing she was coming on the show to talk about this, Louise took on the challenge with her family starting Monday and her 12-year-old has really taken a keen interest. It might just be a pretty good way to get kids to try adding different things to their diet. 

Just literally write a chart, one to thirty, and every time you have one of the foods, a fruit or a vegetableor maybe a type of nut, or if you sprinkle a few seeds onto your salad, or if you put basil into your spaghetti bolognaise, you write that up and add it into the list. 

Remember – nothing can be counted twice. By Thursday morning, Louise’s family had got to 22 plant-based foods, which is pretty good going, but, as Louise admitted, they’ve used up all the more commonly-eaten foods, so the remaining eight will be a little harder, but she’s convinced they’ll get there. Louise does stress though, that, while the challenge can be a fun thing to do, people shouldn’t get hung up on the number 30. If a family charts their consumption and finds they’re getting 10 different foods in a week, if they can increase that to 15 the next week, then that’s a win. It’s all about diversifying what we’re eating. 

You can hear the full conversation between Claire and Louise by going here

The Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute has a page on the 30 plant-based foods challenge here

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2021

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