Gut health gurus says it’s not just about what we eat; it’s variety in our diets that counts. Here’s how to pack the fruit, veg, seeds, nuts, wholegrains and legumes into your week.
However, if you’re eating sauerkraut or kefir at every mealtime – or, for that matter, any other fermented food that the good bacteria in our guts feast merrily upon – it is worth noting that it is not simply about what we consume but the variety of the foods we eat. The American Gut Project’s work with 10,000 citizens revealed that those who ate thirty or more different types of plant-based foods in a week had more diverse microbiomes than those whose range of foods were more limited.
If the idea of eating thirty different types of fruit and veg in your average weekly diet seems ambitious, it is made more achievable by the fact that nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains count towards this number. There are simple tips to help achieve it too, such as buying mixed bags of salad, subscribing to veg boxes and sprinkling mixed seeds on your roasted veg. Here are just a few recipe ideas to help hit that magic number. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life.
The breakfast table is an easy place to pack in some plant-based goodness, simply by adding to – rather than subtracting from – the things that you already enjoy. If, as for most people, toast features, then simply ensure that you choose a multi-seeded grain. If it’s cereal, add nuts, seeds and berries. And for those who prefer a substantial cooked breakfast, simply make sure you cook up some varied veg alongside your eggs and bacon. Here are a couple of ideas.
Cookie + Kate
Avocado toast has become so ubiquitous that it’s now a byword for millennial extravagance, even being held up as one of the extras preventing them from getting a foothold on the property ladder. Pilloried it may be but there is no denying its health benefits, since avocado is an excellent source of healthy fat. We love all the different ways to prepare it, many of which make it extra nutritious. For maximum benefits to your microbiome, choose a multi-seeded grain loaf for your base; then mix your avocado with a twist of lemon or lime; next add roasted tomatoes and a sprinkle of raw, finely chopped red onions, as well as fresh chopped coriander. And finally serve with a scattering of toasted mixed seeds. That’s seven of your thirty, before you even know it. Cookie + Kate is great on the variations you can try out – a sprinkle of chilli flakes and a poached egg, anyone? Check out some ideas here.
So Good Prebiotic Green Smoothie
As the weather hits its stride and spring is in full swing, we find ourselves craving lighter and more refreshing breakfasts. This soya-based smoothie, which is mixed up with a handful of ice, does the job perfectly, plus it’s quick to make too. Just add a banana, an apple, a cup of baby spinach and your prebiotic soya milk into the blender and whizz it up. Then, if you’re so inclined, top it with some sliced kiwi, et voila: five of your thirty, right there on a plate. Check out the recipe here.
Spring Greens Shakshuka
Greens for breakfast may feel like a step too far for some, but if you’re in the mood, this recipe is truly delicious. Packed full of goodness, there are asparagus tips in there, along with broad beans, spinach, peas and baby leeks, plus eggs, dill and chilli flakes. A word of warning: it takes half an hour to knock up, so perhaps best left till the weekend. With a breakfast this virtuous – and, we attest, tasty – you’ll feel ready to take on the world (smugness is, however, one fairly unavoidable if unattractive side effect). Don’t fancy it for breakfast? It works equally well at lunch or dinner. Find the recipe here.
If you’re a salad-for-lunch kind of person, there are quick ways to help boost your plant-based intake. Do, for example, ensure that you opt for mixed leaves, which will help up your variety without any effort. Seeds, too, are an easy addition that your gut will appreciate, plus they add flavour and texture. It goes without saying that if lunch is routinely a sandwich, do make sure that you choose gut-friendly bread and throw some salad leaves in between your slices. And don’t forget the joys of a legume-based lunch. Here are a few flavoursome ideas.
Flagolet Bean Salad
Of all the beans – cannellini, butter, kidney, chickpea – the creamy flageolet is our favourite. This total winner of a recipe is sensationally tasty, extremely good for you, exceptionally quick to knock up – and it’s also inexpensive. Garlicky and suffused with white wine vinegar (another boon for the gut), you can really chop in what you like. This recipe suggests cherry tomatoes, peas, parsley, carrots and black olives, but you can throw in any veg you have to hand. Check out the recipe here.
Lemony Tuna & Asparagus
BBC Good Food
We love a good Salad Nicoise; it’s wholesome, healthy and – rejoice! – actually filling, too. This new take, which replaces the potatoes with cannellini beans, is lean as well as green, thanks to the addition of asparagus. With a squeeze of lemon, it’s zingy, light and refreshing too. Your gut will thank you for the five plant-based foods it contains – even more if you serve it up with a big tomato salad. The kind of lunch that’s great for a weekday, but works just as well accompanied by other salads when al fresco feasting with friends. Read the recipe here.
Kimchi Brown Rice Bliss Bowls
Love & Lemons
Few dishes are likely to get as big a thumbs up from gut health obsessives as these Kimchi Brown Rice Bliss Bowls. They contain raw crunchy veg, peanut sauce, microbiome-friendly kimchi , avocado and brown rice. All the bases are covered – and it’s totally moreish too. Win-win. Get the recipe here.
If you’re a meat and two veg for dinner type, why not choose two days in the week on which to either stay plant-based or, if not, at least add lots of veg, seeds and nuts into the mix to complement your meat. Here are some recipes that we love.
Creamy Sweet Potato Noodles With Garlic, Tempeh and Crispy Kale
Spiralised sweet potato makes a brilliant alternative to spaghetti when you’re trying to boost your plant intake. Other elements of this recipe that your microbiome will thank you for include the kale, the tempeh (fermented soy beans), and the crushed garlic. Serve it up with a wedge of lime for a quick and delicious supper. Click here for the recipe.
Green Goddess Fig Nourish Bowls
How’s this for gut friendly? This quick and easy nourish bowl is stuffed full of things that your good microbiome bacteria thrive on. The list of gut-healing ingredients goes on and on: you’ll need spinach leaves, broccoli sprouts, parsley, green and red cabbage, almonds, sesame seeds, avocado, lemon, apple and figs. And, if you feel that you could still do with more, top it all off with a scattering of fresh berries. Get the winning recipe here.
Whether you’re catering for an outdoor gathering or you’re feeding a larger family, a lasagne is always a winner; you can make it ahead, it’s tasty and it’s inexpensive to make. This vegan take comes courtesy of Deliciously Ella, and features spinach, peas, pine nuts, cashews and – of course – basil. An absolute dream of a dish that works well across all seasons. Read the recipe here.
Being good to your gut doesn’t preclude having a few treats here and there. Sometimes they can even be healthy, as this beauty of a recipe attests.
Carrot Chickpea Traybake
Hemsley & Hemsley
The Hemsley sisters – Jasmine and Melissa – are masters of using deceptively healthy ingredients to create new takes on naughty classics. We love this traybake, which uses chickpeas, carrots, dates and root ginger to create a tray cake that can be eaten for elevenses, tea, or pudding. Get the recipe here.
By Nancy Alsop
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