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Why Our Diet Should Contain 30 Different Plants – For Nutrient Biodiversity

By Heather McKern From Diggers Garden Club Magazine Late Spring Edition 2020. Heather encourages us to increase our intake of dietary plant foods.

The old saying "variety is the spice of life" may be truer than ever. Studies into health are showing that eating at least 30 different plant foods a week  is critical to gut health and considered key to a healthy diet.

Eating a  broad variety of different plants not only increases the amount of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants we consume. That supports our immune system and lowers our risk of diseases like certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and mental health issues.

There are six different categories of plant foods that are counted towards our weekly total, and excluding any specific Dietary restrictions we want to include a variety from each group. They are fruit, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes.

To get the most benefit. We want our plants to be as close to their original state as possible. And to be mindful of what we or others do to prepare them before they are eaten. There is little benefit if you are having a large variety of greens in salads everyday but smothering those greens in oil.

Likewise deep frying 30 veggies each week would do more harm than good and is not going to help your health. In terms of individual foods, things like potatoes with the skin on would be preferable to chips. Sesame seeds are profitable to sesame oil and raw nuts are preferable to a salty bar mix.

 To many people, 30 plant foods a week will seem like a lot, but you will be surprised how easily they can add up. Especially when you make a conscious effort to increase your intake. Even if you are not  getting the 30, just increasing your variety by 5 is a step in the right direction. Here are a few ideas to get to started.

There is always room for beans, lentils and veggies in stews and sauces. Add them in at any opportunity.

Make a nut crumb to sprinkle over yoghurt.  I make a mix consisting of macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews) walnuts, dried goji berries and cranberries as well as cocoa nibs. You could also include things like sunflower, flax or pumpkin seeds. A mix like this can give you 9 different plant foods in one go!

Homemade cereal can have a variety of plant foods. Coconut, sultanas, pepitas, nuts, oats and sunflower seeds are just some examples of ingredients.

Whenever you make a salad, increase your leafy greens, include things from your garden like watercress, endive, dandelion, rocket, radishes, spring onions, sprouts and baby spinach leaves.  You can even add things like viola, calendula or nasturtiums as well.  Just a few pieces not only increases the variety of plants on your plate, but also tends to increase the quantity.  You may have originally only had a few leaves of lettuce but adding in other leaves or flowers will markedly increase your serving size (a good thing in this case).

Other ideas for more unusual salad editions if you want even more variety include herbs like chervil and parsley New Zealand spinach or miners lettuce.

 Instead of having plain mashed potatoes. You can mix it up a bit, experiment with different combinations. I like swedes or sweet potatoes mashed up with my potatoes. You can try adding pumpkin, turnips, parsnips or spinach. Adding herbs is another option - try chives or parsley to start with.

Mix up your veggies at dinnertime. Instead of having steamed carrots and peas (a common choice) add other veggies like sweetcorn, cauliflower, zucchini, beans etc.  Make a commitment to have at least an additional two types of veggies every time you had them as a side dish.

I like a mix of green veggies with my dinner. For example depending on what I have in my garden. I've mix spinach, snow peas and cabbage I will Eva stream them or lightly fry them with some garlic.

Make a super salad, either as a side dish with dinner or as your lunch. Start with a grain like rice or quinoa add in some roast veggies. Add in some salad greens, scatter in some nuts or seeds and drizzle with something like pesto or hummus and you automatically have at least five plant foods on your plate.

Following what you see written here, heather went on to give examples of breakfast, lunch and dinner meal for 7 days, tallying up additional plant foods.

She finishes saying: While I have managed to include over 50 plants in the above week. Space can vary considerably. Some weeks I'm I only have 20. I will still be having lots of plants they are just the same ones. Other weeks if I am channelling my inner superstar. I can get over 60. The point is I'm continually trying to have a variety of plants throughout every day and you can too.

Heather has Bachelor of Science degrees in Nutrition and Dietetics and has worked with Diggers for 10 years.

I think most of us would be doing well if we can practice 20-25 plant foods hey?

A word of Caution: watercress, endive, dandelion, rocket, calendula and cocoa nibs are piquant and strong tasting and  nasturtiums  are peppery. So if your tastebuds don’t favour bitter foods (or your children’s for that matter) it would be much better to include some nicer tasting herbs instead and maybe explore some of the Asian Herbs and Veggies that are sold by the Chinese Supermarkets and Vietnamese growers at the Farmers Markets. You will be surprised what you find if you venture there, and some can be grown at home.

Celery, Parsley, Mint, Garlic, Turmeric, Spring Onions, Basil, Oregano, Dill, Lemon, Lime, Ginger, Lemon Balm and Lemongrass are all very good for us.

Have Fun Venturing With Your Tastebuds. Enjoy!