Fortune Well August 6, 2023
Everyone seems to be talking about gut health. The #guthealth has amassed nearly 4 billion views on TikTok, where digestive health enthusiasts rave about everything from the best pasta sauces for a sensitive gut to gut health hacks and beyond.
The obsession isn’t without basis. A healthy gut is a major part of our overall health and can improve the immune system, regulate hormones, and even boost our mood.
So how can we strengthen the gut and distill the noise around gut health? A healthy gut doesn’t mean abiding by a strict set of food rules, hacks, or food restrictions.
Instead, eating a diverse range of plants through an abundance mindset is the only rule Dr. Megan Rossi, author of How To Eat More Plants and Love your Gut, and a practicing dietitian and nutritionist, promotes.
“We can control the health of our gut microbiome, and the key predictor of that is diversifying your plants,” she tells Fortune.
In short, the more variety of plants you eat, the better. While it may seem ambitious, Rossi recommends aiming for 30 different plants a week from the super six: whole grains (think: quinoa, rolled oats, and sourdough bread), nuts and seeds (walnuts, pistachios, and pecans), vegetables, fruits, legumes (think: beans), and herbs and spices (cumin, cinnamon, and paprika).
“There’s none of the cutting out you may see with other eating plans,” Rossi writes in her book How To Eat More Plants. “This approach is enriching, not restricting; inclusive, not exclusive. More plants, more variety, more fiber, more flavor. I call it the Diversity Diet.”
The gut is composed of trillions of bacteria, making up the gut microbiome. Having a balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome can help regulate blood sugar, support digestion, and strengthen the immune system.
In order to properly feed the gut, it needs to receive “an abundant and diverse range of fiber,” Rossi says in her book, because fiber is metabolized slower and, therefore, travels to the gut microbiome where it’s digested. Fiber has been associated with reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and obesity and is most commonly found in whole plants. The standard recommendations suggest consuming 30 grams of fiber a day.
Plant-based foods are also rich in phytochemicals, which have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that help improve gut health.
Research shows the more diverse people’s diets are, the stronger their gut microbiome becomes.
“By consuming a large number of different plant fibers, that gives the building blocks for the emergence of diverse bacterial populations,” Dr. Richard Day, vice president of medical affairs and clinical development at ADM, a food processing company, previously told Fortune.
Renowned food expert Michael Pollan, known for coining the phrase eat food, not too much, mostly plants, says learning to love a diverse range of food serves another purpose beyond gut strength: it can make people love the art of cooking.
“Food is one of the great pleasures, and we have this very censorious attitude about it. It’s indulgence followed by guilt. I think there’s a place for indulgence, and there’s no place for guilt,” he previously told Fortune.
Discovering a love for a wide range of plants can make food a source of enjoyment and cooking a time for creativity.
Rossi suggests the 28-day plant point challenge (because games are always more fun when trying to change habits). One plant food gives you 1 plant point, while one herb or spice gives you one-fourth of a plant point. Even coffee counts as a plant. The goal: 30 plant points per week.
Meat lovers, don’t fret, Rossi says. You don’t need to go vegan and eliminate other protein sources from your diet completely. Focusing on a plant-based diet means prioritizing plants at the center of your meals, Rossi says.
Being mindful of the diversity mindset can look like a couple of easy adjustments, like making chili with mixed beans instead of just one kind of bean, Rossi writes in her book. Having pinto beans and black beans will then give you two plant points versus one. Instead of eating a bowl of only strawberries, consider having a cup of mixed berries. Grab crackers that contain many types of seeds, or a handful of nuts as a snack.
How to maximize your plant game? See how many types of super six you can get per day. If you have quinoa, strawberries, blueberries, a list of vegetables, chia seeds, beans, and a few spices, you already exceed 10 plant points.
In her book, Rossi lays out how to diversify your plants in every meal. Here are a few of her examples:
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