How to eat 30 plants a week to boost gut health, according to Tim Spector

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 11: Tim Spector during day 2 of Good Housekeeping Live, in partnership with Dyson, on November 11, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/Getty Images for Hearst UK)
Tim Spector explains how people can get 30 or more different plants per week into their everyday diets. (Getty Images)

Time and time again, medical experts have told us to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. The NHS recommends eating five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, known as the 5 A Day campaign.

But, epidemiologist Tim Spector took things further and now recommends that people eat 30 or more different types of plants a week to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

Speaking to Yahoo UK, Spector revealed why we should be eating more than '5 A Day', and just how we can achieve it. His recommendation first came to light after he led the British Gut Project, which was part of the American Gut Project, a collaboration of researchers and volunteers from the US, the UK and Australia.

The results of the research showed that participants who ate 30 or more different plants per week had more diverse gut microbiomes, and were more likely to have certain “good” gut bugs and bacteria compared to those who ate only 10.

Since then, Spector - who is the co-founder of the personalised nutrition programme ZOE - has spread his advice far and wide, in hopes that people will aspire towards the goal of eating a more diverse diet of plants to improve their gut health.

Watch: Try These Probiotic-Rich Foods to Boost Your Gut Health

How to eat 30 fruits and vegetables each week

But, for most, the idea of eating 30 different fruits and vegetables each week, can be daunting.

In an interview with Yahoo UK, Spector reveals that a common complaint from people hearing his advice for the first time is that it’s an unachievable goal.

"People often say they don’t even know 30 plants they can eat, they only eat potatoes and peas," he says. "But what people don’t realise is that eating a wide variety of different plants isn’t that difficult at all.

"Different-coloured plants count.

"You get a different score if you eat purple carrots, orange carrots or white carrots."

So you could also eat red, green and yellow bell peppers, and they will count as three different plants - or red onions, white onions and shallots, for example.

"You can also get it from nuts and seeds, all the different types out there, each one counts as a different plant. Each herb and spice also counts. So actually, once you’ve counted them all, it’s not really as hard as it seems."

According to the ZOE website, even small pinches or herbs and spices count towards the goal of 30 or more different plants per week. However, it adds that you may want to try and incorporate herbs and spices into several meals throughout the week to get the full benefits.

Eating plenty of fruit can help give your body the boost of nutrients and vitamins it needs. (Getty Images)
Eating plenty of fruit can help give your body the boost of nutrients and vitamins it needs. (Getty Images)

Apart from fruit and vegetables, legumes including beans, pulses and peas also count as different plants that can be added to your diet. Examples like black beans, broad beans, butter beans, chickpeas, green beans, kidney beans, lentils, and more are easily available.

Grains, particularly whole grains, also count. The ZOE website says: "Overall, whole grains contain more nutrients than refined grains like white flour and white rice. They’re also better for your blood sugar and blood fat levels."

Spector adds that having plants as juice also counts towards the goal of 30.

Tim Spector's Gut Shot with Marks & Spencer

It comes as Marks & Spencer launches a new collaboration with ZOE in the form of the Gut Shot, a milk-based drink that contains seven types of plants.

The drink contains over five billion live cultures from 14 strains of friendly bacteria, and is described as a "creamy yet tart milk drink with kefir and berries". It is priced at £2 for 150ml and buyers can get a free gut health guide with each purchase.

"We just want to encourage diversity [in what we eat] and this Gut Shot, for example, contains seven different plants that are nutritious and are things you would normally have in your diet," Spector explains.

"There are lots of ways people can get more diversity into their diet, and even if they don’t get to 30 plants a week, as long as they are eating more than they do now, they’re moving in the right direction."

He adds that, when consuming plants as a drink, you should consider leaving the skin on. "As long as the skin is on the plant, that’s generally where most of the goodness is and it hasn’t been ultra-processed, it’s still in its main form. So whether you squash it or not, it’s still got goodness in it.

"I think the important thing is diversity, freshness, and getting new things into your diet. That’s what everyone can take home."

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