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It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.

Mahatma Gandhi.

The ‘6 per day’ Plant Food Challenge

Research is showing that in order to have a healthy gut we need to have a greater diversity of our microflora. Consider that our gut contains over a trillion living microorganisms – that’s 10 times the number of cells in the human body – and most of these live in the colon (our large intestine).  These microorganisms make up our microbiome – this is like our internal gut ecosystem. 

There are over 1000 different species of bacteria that can be found in the gut and each of us has only around 160. And the interesting thing is that the make up of our microbiome is unique to each of us – no two are the same.

Each species of bacteria in our gut has a specific role to play and research is showing that a lack of diversity in our bacteria is now being associated with allergy, asthma, obesity, mood disorders, inflammation and type2 diabetes. The most commonly known gut bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria – but these strains only make up roughly 1-5% of your entire microbiome.  So do you think just taking these strains will be enough to improve your gut health?  Considering we have around 160 species in our gut how do we also increase the other microbes to ensure we have diversity? 

VARIETY – different plant foods provide fuel for different bacteria so variety is the key to increase diversity.

For our microbiome to flourish we need to eat a variety of wholefoods with fibre such as vegetables, fruits and wholegrains. These foods become pre-biotics in the gut – basically like a fertiliser for the good bacteria – as they ferment in the colon. In other words this food is a fuel and energy source for the microflora.

So here is a challenge for you to increase and nourish your microbiome. For the next week try and eat at least 6 new/different plant foods every day.  6 is not really a lot and can easily be done.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Consider eating all the colours of the rainbow – mix it up
  • Choose foods you don’t normally eat eg if you never eat eggplant, try eggplant
  • Mix up your rice – eat some brown, some black, some wild rice
  • Add garlic, onion or spices to meals
  • Add a kiwi fruit to your berry smoothy
  • Always eat granny smith apples? – try a red delicious
  • Add some different beans into your soups, or some chickpeas
  • Swap your colours eg purple carrots instead of orange, try a red cabbage instead of green or even a red onion over a white onion.
  • Sautéed brussel sprouts in coconut oil with sesame seeds is actually delicious
  • Aim for one hardly ever eaten food per day eg brussel sprouts, red lentils, globe artichokes, asparagus, hazelnuts, leeks, kidney beans, cherries

Here are some rules:

  • For it to count as 1 food a minimum amount is around 1 teaspoon eg if you add grated ginger, garlic, or spices
  • Animal products don’t count as they don’t contain fermentable carbohydrates
  • No protein powders for the same reason
  • No processed foods, no canned fruits or canned vegetables (besides beans, beetroot and chickpeas – but the fresh option is always best)

Have FUN with it …. And enjoy new flavours. And remember that your microbiome can start to change within just 24 hours of introducing new foods – so what an amazing incentive to start today.

Jeanette Gee BHSc (Nat)

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