Plant-based eating is all the rage, and for good reason: Diets rich in minimally processed plant foods are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Why are plants such powerhouses? They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and belly-filling fiber.
Plant foods are not limited to just fruits and vegetables. Nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, herbs and spices also count. The whole plant kingdom is an incredible source of nutrition for your gut microbiome, the unique microbial community that inhabits your body. The first major results released by the American Gut Project, the world’s largest published microbiome study to date, has found that people who eat more than 30 plant types per week have better microbial diversity than people who consume less than 10 per week.
The gut microbiome is dynamic and unique — no two people have the same microbial makeup. Nourishing the good gut bugs can encourage them to produce certain vitamins, neurotransmitters and short chain fatty acids, which may help guard against inflammation and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Build your plate around plants (aim for two-thirds of the plate), and fill in the rest with your favorite protein. We’ve made getting started on your 30-plant-per-week challenge easy — just follow our one-week meal plan and you’ll be well on your way.
The 30-Plant Challenge FAQs
Read these Q&As before giving the challenge a try.
Are beans/tofu considered part of the 30? Definitely! Beans, lentils and tofu are excellent sources of protein and fiber. When choosing tofu, look for the non-GMO label, as soy is commonly a genetically modified crop.
Do frozen and canned count? Frozen, canned and freeze-dried absolutely count as they contain all the plant’s nutrients, including fiber to nourish your good gut bugs.
What about herbs? Herbs and spices also count. They are the plant kingdom’s flavor enhancers, and many have antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Does color matter when choosing fruits and vegetables? Aim for a variety of colors every day, as each color provides different antioxidants and phytochemicals that may help to reduce inflammation in the body and boost your immune system.
Should I choose organic? Not all produce needs to be organic. We recommend consulting the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists (ewg.org) to find out which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are safe.
Where can I find the freshest veg? We love going to the local farmer’s market or opting for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) box because you not only support your local farmer and reduce your carbon footprint, but you’re buying produce that’s in season.
Are there foods I should avoid? Because you get all the nutrients and fiber from the whole food, we don’t recommend juicing fruits and vegetables. In addition, if you are watching your sugar intake, limit or avoid dried fruit, as the dehydrating process concentrates the sugars.
Do fermented veg count? Fermented vegetables definitely count, and they also provide probiotics (good bacteria) to your digestive system. Unpasteurized pickles, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh are popular and readily available fermented foods. Just be careful not to have too much at one time as they can make you bloated and gassy due to them being fermented by the bacteria residing in your large intestine.
What about animal protein? Whether you follow a vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian eating style or you enjoy animal proteins, creating a dietary foundation on minimally processed plant foods can yield numerous benefits. If you enjoy animal proteins, choose pasture-raised eggs, organic dairy, grass-fed/finished beef and lamb, organic poultry, pasture-raised pork and wild-caught fish. In this section, we went with a vegetarian plan, but it can be adjusted to be vegan with a few swaps.
Who is this plan NOT for? For some people with digestive issues such as low stomach acid, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), dysbiosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), increasing the amount of plants in your diet too quickly can exacerbate symptoms. If this sounds like you, start with smaller quantities and only increase portion sizes as your gut allows. You can still aim for more variety, just smaller servings.
One Week, 30 Plants
We’ve designed this plan with diversity in mind. Get ready to consume these 30 plants this week:
12. Cherry tomatoes
15. Mixed greens (kale, chard and/or spinach)
|16. Jalapeño chile pepper
23. Organic soy/tofu
29. Hemp seeds
30. Chia seeds