According to leading gut expert Dr Megan Rossi, we need to look beyond our 5-a-day mantra and turn our attention to a new target: eating 30-a-week.
Impossible, you say! But when you look into the detail, it’s actually an easier goal to go for than the well-worn advice to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
That’s because, within this figure, Megan not only includes familiar fruits and veg, but also nuts, seeds and wholegrain carbs. She sub-divides vegetables and gives pulses their own special sixth category.
This makes the 30-a-week target much easier than you’d imagine. In return, you’ll be rewarded by feeling happier, your body will be able to fight off bugs better and it will help get your appetite under control by boosting the number and diversity of good bacteria in your colon.
Megan explains that these wide-reaching benefits are possible because bacteria have different tasks. Some produce chemical messages that switch off hunger, others trigger hormones that boost immunity and some lead to the production of vitamins or kill off harmful toxins.
It’s because of the exceptional range of ‘jobs’ that different good bacteria undertake that they need as wide a range as possible of plant-based ‘materials’ to feed on.
Megan is not saying that we all need to turn vegetarian or vegan to achieve this. She does point out, though, that when it comes to animal protein, it’s best to stick with amounts that our upper digestive systems can deal with. It turns out this is no more than 70g (when it comes to lean red meat, this is conveniently in line with current Department of Health thinking). She’s also OK about alcohol, as long as our intake is within current advice of a maximum of 14 units a week (no more than two units a day) with a couple of alcohol-free days. This helps to avoid inflammation and changing bacterial types for the worse.
We put Megan’s 30-a-week challenge to the test and were surprised that we were actually able to double this goal!
Check out our seven-day guide below for an easy way to meet the magic number…
Breakfast: Porridge with berries (2)
Snack: Banana (1)
Lunch: Wholemeal bread sandwich with tuna salad (2)
Snack: Handful of almonds (1)
Dinner: Sweet potato mash topped with fried chilli eggs served with steamed broccoli (2)
Breakfast: Berry smoothie made with soya milk (1)
Snack: Handful of sunflower seeds with raisins (1)
Lunch: Wholegrain wrap filled with avocado and little lean roast chicken and sliced tomato (3)
Snack: 2 oatcakes with ricotta and a pear (2)
Dinner: Vegetable chilli with brown rice (2)
Breakfast: Grilled mushrooms on wholegrain sourdough toast (2)
Snack: 20g piece of dark chocolate with 30g dried apricots (1)
Lunch: Quinoa salad with tofu and 40g each sweetcorn and green beans (3)
Snack: Slice wholemeal toast with cashew nut butter (1)
Dinner: Baked salmon with boiled new potatoes in their skins with roasted Mediterranean vegetables (2)
Breakfast: Barley and oat flake dried fruit muesli with grated apple (2)
Snack: Greek yogurt with berries (1)
Lunch: Baked potato with baked beans and green salad (2)
Snack: Handful mixed nuts (1)
Dinner: Cauliflower and tofu curry with brown rice (3)
Breakfast: 2 poached eggs on 1 slice of granary toast with grilled tomato (2)
Snack: Soya milk cappuccino with a handful of dried mango (1)
Lunch: Wholemeal pitta with hummus and cucumber (2)
Snack: 2 rye crispbreads spread with a little ricotta and topped with 2 chopped dates (2)
Dinner: Spaghetti bolognese (made with onions, garlic, tomatoes and 50g lean mince per person) served with wholemeal spaghetti (2)
Breakfast: Bowl of All Bran with sliced banana and almond milk (2)
Snack: 20g plain popcorn mixed with 30g dried apple (2)
Lunch: Brown rice salad with 70g grilled flaked mackerel, 40 cherry tomatoes, 40g chopped fresh mango, parsley and a little French dressing (2)
Snack: 30g walnuts (1)
Dinner: Vegetable con carne with baked sweet potato (2)
Breakfast: Winter fruit salad with Greek yogurt sprinkled with toasted flaxseeds (2)
Snack: 1 slice granary toast with peanut butter (2)
Lunch: 1 wholegrain English muffin topped with 80g spinach (cooked and well drained), a little low fat crème fraîche and 2 poached eggs (2)
Snack: 30g pistachios (1)
Dinner: 70g lean steak served with slices of avocado, ratatouille and a baked potato (2)
Dr Megan Rossi is the author of a new book, Eat yourself healthy: an Easy-To-Digest Guide to Health And Happiness from The Inside Out (Penguin Life, £16.99)