Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach Charlotte Lau asks whether five-a-day is actually enough
Fruit and vegetables are part of a healthy, balanced diet and evidence shows there are significant health benefits to consuming the NHS’s recommended five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. The ‘5-a-day campaign’ is based on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. The ‘5-a-day’ rule is a great place to start, but to support the trillions of microbes living in our gut – which all need different types of plant foods to flourish – we should try to aim for thirty different sources a week.
Learn to… think about diversity
For good gut health, the goal is diversity. Research has found that people who eat at least thirty different plant-based foods a week had more diverse gut microbes than people who ate less than ten. The more diverse plant foods we feed our gut microbes, the more diverse they become and the more ‘skills’ they have to help train our immune cells; increasing our resilience to infection, strengthening our gut barrier, balancing our blood sugar levels, lowering blood fats and, in the process, helping to prevent against disease. All fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds, herbs and spices count, so focus on variety and colour and try things you wouldn’t usually think to put in your trolley! Try the mixed packs of plants, for example switch broccoli for stir fry veg; pumpkin seeds for 4 seed mix; rice for mixed grains; chickpeas for 4 bean mix – to increase diversity.
Step away from… ready meals
With ready meals and fast foods, it’s not easy to know exactly what has gone into the food you are eating! When you cook from scratch you are in control of what you add as well as avoiding the quantity of additives, salt, sugar and fat that is often used in many processed foods. Opting to use herbs and spices, rather than salt, helps to add flavour and including beans and pulses or opting for wholegrain alternatives like brown rice can increase the fibre content of meals, while adding extra vegetables boosts the vitamins and minerals. So every time you go to cook up a meal at home, stop and think, ‘What could I add?’ Chop a banana over your porridge and then sprinkle on some seeds, add roast vegetables to your plate or a colourful salad, add extra celery or carrots to dip in your hummus, or make nourishing vegetable soups with leftovers.
Give it a go… start your day right!
With busy mornings and lack of time, many of us reach for easy options such as a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast with butter or jam for breakfast, missing out on the opportunity to add in a little extra fibre from plants. With some forward planning it is possible to include a few of your thirty portions, before 9am, whilst supporting more balanced blood sugar levels, too! If you love toast or cereal, choose options with multiple grains or seeds – think multi-seed breads or wholegrain breakfast cereals that contain multiple grains. Choose seeds, nut butters, mixed berries, cinnamon or stewed apples to add to your porridge, rather than a drizzle of honey. Or give a savoury breakfast a go. Try adding a side to your favourite eggs – mushrooms, tomatoes, courgettes and spinach can all be done in one pan. An omelette with mixed peppers, spring onions and tomatoes with a side of crispy kale is really delicious. My personal favourite, however, is leftovers from the night before!
Charlotte runs Plume Nutrition, where she offers support and advice for weight management, controlling cravings, sleeplessness, stress and increasing energy levels. Find out more at plumenutrition.com
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