How important is it to eat a variety of foods?


One of the healthiest lifestyle changes you could make is to include more plant foods in your weekly menu. But, it’s also crucial to make sure you aren’t eating the same foods every day. Here’s why it’s important to eat a variety of foods and some pointers for adding more plant variety to your weekly routine.


Variety is Key

Okay, so what’s the big deal about variety? Well, in one study, people who ate at least 30 forms of plant foods each week had a healthier gut environment compared to people who were eating ten or fewer types of plant foods. (Don’t freak out if that number--30!--sounds high. Lots of foods count, so keep reading!)


A healthy gut matters because it’s tied to:

  • Immune health

  • Mood regulation

  • Digestive health

  • Weight management

  • Healthy aging

Plant foods boost fiber intake

Here in the U.S., around 60% of our diet is made up of heavily processed foods, like pizza, white sandwich bread, and sugary cereal. This type of eating pattern negatively impacts the diversity of our gut microbiome and contributes to a number of diseases.


Meanwhile, the high amount of processed foods we eat also partially explains why just 5% of men and 9% of women meet their daily fiber requirements. A low fiber intake also contributes to a lack of diversity in your gut and poor gut health. When you eat a variety of plant foods, your fiber intake will go up, leading to a better gut environment.


How to eat a variety of foods

Instead of eating the same foods every day, choose numerous foods from the plant categories below.


Vegetables

Unless you’re eating vegetables at lunch and dinner, it will be challenging to eat the variety of foods you need each week. If you’re not sure how to prepare veggies, or you want some simple and delicious options, check out my easy vegetable side dishes.

  • Artichoke

  • Arugula

  • Asparagus

  • Beets

  • Bell pepper

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Cauliflower

  • Celery

  • Corn

  • Cucumber

  • Eggplant

  • Green beans

  • Kale

  • Lettuce greens

  • Mushrooms

  • Onions

  • Parsnips

  • Potato

  • Pumpkin (canned)

  • Spinach

  • Squash

  • Sweet Potato

  • Zucchini


Fruits

Don’t get into a rut eating the same fruits every day. If you only buy one or two fruits because you worry they’ll go bad, try frozen fruit. I like to keep berries, mango, and cherries in the freezer at all times! This helps me eat a variety of fruits every week.

  • Apple

  • Apricot

  • Banana

  • Blackberries

  • Blueberries

  • Cantaloupe

  • Cherries

  • Dates

  • Grapefruit

  • Grapes

  • Honeydew

  • Kiwi

  • Lemon

  • Lime

  • Mango

  • Nectarine

  • Orange

  • Peach

  • Plum

  • Pear

  • Pineapple

  • Pomegranate

  • Raspberries

  • Strawberries

  • Watermelon


Plant-based fats

Whenever possible, choose plant-based fats, which are healthier for your heart and gut.

  • Avocado

  • Almonds

  • Almond butter

  • Brazil nuts

  • Cashews

  • Chia seeds

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Flax seeds

  • Hemp seeds

  • Olives

  • Peanuts

  • Peanut butter

  • Pecans

  • Pine nuts

  • Pistachios

  • Pumpkin Seeds

  • Tahini

  • Sesame seeds

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Walnuts


Whole grains

Doughy white grains have been stripped of their fiber and healthy plant substances. Some vitamins and minerals are added back, but you won’t get the full benefit. That’s why these refined grains make my list of worst processed foods to eat. Obviously, you can eat these grains sometimes without worrying about it, but it’s better to eat more whole grains. (Check out my favorite whole grain cereals for more cereal diversity!)

  • Brown rice

  • Buckwheat

  • Farro

  • Millet

  • Oats

  • Quinoa

  • Sorghum

  • Whole wheat


Pulses & soy

These plant-based proteins do double duty--they also provide fiber! So add them to your weekly meal prep for more plant variety. (By the way, here are some ideas for high protein plant-based meals.)

  • Black beans

  • Cannellini beans

  • Chickpeas

  • Edamame

  • Kidney beans

  • Lentils

  • Peas

  • Pinto beans

  • Tofu


Flavor and plant boosters

Get a nutritious boost from these seasonings and beverages. They supply bioactive plant compounds that feed healthy bacteria in your gut.

  • Allspice

  • Basil

  • Cocoa

  • Cardamom

  • Chili powder

  • Cilantro

  • Cinnamon

  • Coffee

  • Cumin

  • Garlic

  • Ginger

  • Nutmeg

  • Oregano

  • Parsley

  • Rosemary

  • Sage

  • Tarragon

  • Tea

  • Thyme

  • Turmeric


How to eat more plant foods

Now that you see there’s a wide world of plant foods to explore, here are some tactics for adding them to your diet.

  1. Start with your favorites and try them in new ways. Already a fan of peanut butter? Use it to make a marinade for tofu or a dip for veggies. Do you like hummus? Try it as a replacement for salad dressing or instead of the cheese in a quesadilla.

  2. Try a protein swap. All you need to do is swap your typical protein source for a plant-based one. For example, instead of Greek yogurt, use silken tofu to make your next smoothie. Or try using black beans instead of taco meat sometimes. These are just a couple of the many possibilities!

  3. Sprinkle plants on top. Obviously, the plant-based flavor boosters will instantly elevate any meal. But don’t stop there. Add nuts and seeds while you’re at it. These foods are perfect over oatmeal and parfaits, and they take stir-fries, roasted veggies, and soups to the next level. They’re a wonderful finishing touch! Meanwhile, you can also apply this strategy with leftover whole grains; just sprinkle brown rice or quinoa or another whole grain over your roasted veggies or salads to add more plants to your plate.

  4. Layer plant foods into your favorite meals. Another approach is to start with a favorite dish and give it a plant slant. Enjoying scrambled eggs for breakfast? Stir in some chopped peppers and mushrooms. Having pasta for dinner? Add some broccoli and olives.


These tips will boost your plant variety, and they’ll make your meals more flavorful and exciting.


The bottom line

Eating the same foods every day can wipe out the diversity of your gut and leave you vulnerable to physical and mental health conditions. Aiming for 30 plant foods every week can help you get the fiber you need as well as promote a more diverse microbiome and better gut health. Don’t worry if you’re getting nowhere near this amount of plant foods, though. Do the best you can by using the approaches mentioned above.


And if you want to start off with some easy meals and snacks that have a plant slant, download my FREE recipe booklet!