10 ways to eat more plants
Diversity is just as important as quantity if you want to boost your health and wellbeing with the veggies you eat. Read on to discover 10 ways to plate up more plants.
Past experiences with poorly cooked veggies can linger in the memory like the aroma of overboiled cabbage, so it’s hardly surprising some of us cling to our prejudices against greens and leaves. And while vegetables haven’t changed that much in the past couple of decades, the ways in which we prepare and cook them have become more diverse and innovative. They’ve become a pleasure rather than a chore to eat.
Yet some of us remain virtue-signalling vegetable eaters, only popping them on our plates so we can dutifully tick off the recommended five-a-day. If this is you, it’s time to switch up your repertoire. Plants don’t just keep us healthy – when prepared and cooked well, they are utterly delicious too. If you can approach your old enemies with curiosity, you may be surprised to discover that there’s more to tempt the taste buds in a morsel of miso-roasted eggplant than in a slice of grilled chicken, while a rainbow of vibrant veggies looks far more appetising than the beigy-brown of cooked meat.
While many people are not even close to eating the minimum five portions of veg a day, evidence shows that five isn’t nearly enough anyway. And it’s not just about quantity. Combined research from the American Gut Project and the British Gut Project, which tested microbiome samples from over 11,000 people, led to a ‘30-a-week’ campaign instead. The results revealed that the people who ate 30 or more different plant foods per week had the most diverse bacteria and fewer antibiotic resistance genes in their gut microbiome than the people who ate 10 or fewer plant foods. This is because different good gut microbes feast on different types of dietary fibres. So for healthy bacterial diversity, you need diet diversity. Because fibre is only found in plant foods, this means most of us need to be eating far more of them!
The results revealed that the people who ate 30 or more different plant foods per week had the most diverse bacteria and fewer antibiotic resistance genes in their gut microbiome than the people who ate 10 or fewer plant foods.
Many of us buy the same handful of fruit and vegetable varieties on repeat each week. However, eating an abundance and a diversity of plants is key to providing all the fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients we need for tip-top health, along with all the flavours that make food exciting. Keeping ‘30-a-week’ in mind is a great way to focus on improving variety in your diet, but before you panic about this being a lot, remember that plant foods also include seeds, nuts, wholegrains, legumes, pulses, herbs, and spices.
Eating a diverse diet of plant foods not only promotes good gut health – which we now know has a powerful influence on our mental and physical wellbeing – but also provides us with all the plant-exclusive benefits of disease-fighting, antioxidant phytonutrients that are contained in their tasty leaves, shoots, roots, and fruits. So let’s celebrate the superpowers of plants and make them the stars of our plate.
10 WAYS TO PLATE UP MORE PLANTS
- Choose a new veg of the week
- Cook them differently
- Fill your freezer with prepared frozen vegetables
- Cook from scratch
- Go against the grain
- Season’s eatings
- Get a veggie box delivery
- Swap a snack
- Pack in the flavour
- Add texture
1. CHOOSE A NEW VEG OF THE WEEK
Pick a new-to-you or rarely used fruit and vegetable each week to include in your meals. If you never cook with fennel or bok choy, seek out new recipes that feature these veg. If you’ve never tried star fruit or dragon fruit, include them on a fruit platter. Get the whole family involved in choosing the fruit or veg of the week.
2. COOK THEM DIFFERENTLY
The choice of cooking method is tremendously important for getting the best out of your veggies, so if you always boil or steam them, try roasting or stir-frying instead and see how it changes the flavour and texture. For example, steamed cauliflower can go soggy in the blink of an eye, but eaten raw or roasted, it tastes like a completely different vegetable and retains its texture.
3. FILL YOUR FREEZER
Preprepared frozen vegetables are often just as nutritious as fresh, especially if your fresh veg have been languishing in the fridge for a little too long. Frozen is a great option for days when you have less time for prep, you want to eat out-of-season produce, or you’re adding them into dishes where the texture doesn’t matter so much, such as in soups and curries. Great freezer standbys include cauliflower rice, spinach, green beans, broccoli, sweetcorn, edamame, and peas.
All kinds of frozen berries and fruits such as mango are perfect for popping into smoothies.
4. COOK FROM SCRATCH
If you love the convenience of ready-made meals and sauces, try making your favourites from scratch and freezing for quick meals. Making your own means you can experiment with different ingredients while controlling the oil, sugar, and salt levels. Start by cooking one item you normally buy ready-made and then move on to something else. You could begin with a soup, hummus, pesto, or pasta sauce and then progress to dishes like veggie lasagne. Batch cooking and freezing extra portions saves time and effort another day.
5. GO AGAINST THE GRAIN
If you always use the same old grains, perhaps rice or couscous, try some new-to-you alternatives. Quinoa is high in protein with a complete range of amino acids, while freekeh, farro, and bulgur are higher in fibre than traditional wheat grains. Spelt and pearl barley are great alternatives to arborio rice for risotto, while buckwheat flour instead of white flour is good for pancakes. Adding wild rice to a salad or pilaf will boost plant-based protein, as will pulse pasta and noodles instead of wheat varieties.
6. SEASON’S EATINGS
Try to eat in harmony with the seasons. Not only does this reduce food miles, but it can also save a bit of money because you are buying locally grown produce at its most naturally abundant time. Reducing travel time and distance from field to plate also ensures produce is at its peak for flavour and nutritional goodness.
7. GET A VEGGIE BOX DELIVERY
This is an easy way to eat seasonally and boost your diet diversity. You’ll get good quality (often organic), predominantly locally grown produce from local farms. This is a great way to reduce plastic packaging too. Veggie boxes will also encourage you to be a little more adventurous, as the selection of produce is curated for you.
8. SWAP A SNACK
Challenge yourself to swap snacks such as chips and muesli bars to wholefood plant-based options. Fresh fruit, dehydrated fruit slices, and veg or bean dips with veggie sticks are excellent options.
You could also try home-made, oven-roasted vegetable chips, spice-roasted nuts or chickpeas, and bliss balls.
9. PACK IN THE FLAVOUR
Vegetables have wonderful natural flavours! If you hanker for that umami element that meat and cheese can add to a dish, use ingredients such as miso, dried porcini mushrooms, smoked paprika, soy sauce or tamari, pomegranate molasses, nutritional yeast flakes, chipotle or chilli paste, harissa, garlic, or herbs and spices. You can also add pizazz to raw or cooked veggies with dips and toppings – perhaps a spoonful of home-made pesto, a squeeze of lemon, a bit of garlic, or a pinch of chilli salt. Try a sprinkle of spice-roasted seeds or nuts, a drizzle of a flavoursome oil like sesame or walnut, a scattering of fresh herbs, or a dash of chilli jam or sriracha.
10. REMEMBER TO ADD TEXTURE
For a satisfying mouthfeel, think about how to incorporate ‘meaty’ textures into your cooking. Good options include mushrooms – especially large, chunky varieties such as king oysters and portobello – as well as eggplant, jackfruit, tofu, tempeh, or seitan.
Nuts and seeds are another nutritious way to add a crunchy texture to your veggies.