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Summer is here, it’s warm, the nights are longer, and we’re all looking for quick and easy meals. Now, we all know we need to eat your veggies to be healthy right? Well, it doesn’t need to be hard using all the delicious summer fruit and vegetables in-store at Countdown this summer. Countdown Supermarket has everything you need; from the freshest in-season fruit and veggies to a collection of easy and quick recipes in-store and online. If you’re looking for inspiration and good value this summer and also wanting to stick to your New Year resolution of eating more fruit and veggies, let them help you out!

So why should we be eating more fruit and veggies? And what is actually going on in our bodies that it leading to good health and what does that actually look like on a day to day basis?

Let’s delve a bit deeper together. My hope is with a bit more understanding about the mechanism of good health, you’ll be more motivated to steam, bake, roast, BBQ and saute those veggies and dice, chop and hull all the fresh fruit this summer!

One of the big players responsible for the health benefits of fruit and vegetables is their high fiber content. Fiber is a carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. It’s found in the plants we eat — fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation, our gut bacteria also love to feast on fiber, especially two kinds: Fructans are high-fiber natural carbs found in onions, garlic, wheat and other plant foods, and Cellulose, an insoluble fiber your body can’t digest. Cellulose is found in broccoli stems, carrot peels, asparagus stalks-basically the tough, chewy parts of fruits and veggies we often toss! Sadly, most of us get only about half the total daily fiber we need, and even less of the super-beneficial fructans. But there’s good news: upping your fiber intake can improve your gut bacteria fast – sometimes in as little as five days, according to a study in the journal Nature (Herr, L, 2019). 

So why should we care about what we’re feeding these little guys in our gut? The gut microbiota is the community of bacteria and other microbes—some 100 trillion of them—that live in the gastrointestinal tract, primarily in the large intestine (the microbiome is the collective DNA of this community) and in a nutshell, the healthier our bacteria are, the healthier WE are!

New research has shown that a high microbial diversity is associated with health, while lower diversity is linked with inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and other disorders (Lloyd-Price, 2016). So if we have a healthy gut microbiome (a robust and diverse range of bacteria in our guts) then we have reduced risk of inflammation and cardiovascular disease but we also have a more robust immune function and improved intestinal function! ( Tomova et al. (2019). By eating a range of fruit and vegetables with lots of fiber, we’re feeding all the good buys down there, increasing the diversity of the population and will have a healthful and stable gut bacteria and as a result, we are getting the benefits of reduced risk of chronic disease and better overall immunity (not to mention energy and vibrancy for life, plus clearer skin, less brain fog etc).

Another study found that eating an abundance of fruit and veggies can change things QUICK! A study by Klimenko et al (2018), showed that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber, plant-based foods improves gut bacteria diversity within two weeks! Researchers assessed gut bacteria composition in 248 participants over a two-week dietary intervention that increased fiber intake. Those who consumed more fruits, vegetables, and grains improved gut bacterial diversity when compared to participants who did not change their diet.

Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Washington, DC “Eating a plant-based diet with ample fiber changes the gut microbiome composition for the better by feeding the right kind of bacteria…notably short-chain fatty acid-producing Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, [which] deliver many metabolic benefits including weight loss, increased insulin sensitivity, and fat loss, including visceral fat loss,” she noted.

So this is all very well, but how do we put this into practice? Plant-based diets can take many forms, from vegan and vegetarian to flexitarian and omnivore. The common denominator is that they make plant foods the focal point of the plate. When many people hear “plant-based,” they think “vegan”, but “plant-based” doesn’t have to mean “plant-only”. By increasing your plant intake and making gradual changes, you can enjoy and sustain a more plant-centric diet. This is so important because long-term dietary patterns matter most for shaping the microbiota.

 

 

Here are a few places to start:

  • Eat vegetarian one day per week (perhaps establishing “Meat-Free Mondays”), then try adding a few more vegetarian meals during the week.
  • Move away from the “meat as the center of the plate” eating style. Choose more veggie-rich dishes, such as hearty protein-packed salads, whole grain dishes, curries, or the delicious Egg Free Tomato & Pest Quiche pictured above.
  • Use meat as a seasoning, as many cultures do around the world—one portion can flavor a whole family-sized meal in dishes like stews, casseroles, pastas, and stir-fries.
  • Base more meals on beans and lentils, such as chili, bean burritos, or lentil soup, and convert favorite dishes like lasagna, spaghetti, and tacos to meatless versions.
  • If you strongly prefer a higher-protein, higher-fat diet, make sure you’re also getting enough dietary fiber.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with how to cook whole grains or dried beans or are bored with their usual ways of preparing vegetables, some simple recipes that I’ve thoroughly tested are on the website.
  • Use fruit as your go-to snack. It can even be used in desserts and cold treats, like these Frozen Blueberry Smoothie Pops below.
  • Eat in season! By eating fresh produce that is in season for the time of year, you’ll not only be eating fresher fruit (that’s not shipped from the other side of the world) but you’ll be saving money as well.  Countdown Supermarket is where I shop for a lot of my fresh produce. I love that their produce is always fresh, accessible and affordable. I love that they take pride in supporting local growers and have direct relationships with them. My favourite in season fruit and veg right now include tomatoes, asparagus, blueberries, strawberry and stone fruit!

 

BLUEBERRY SMOOTHIE POPS

Makes: 4

INGREDIENTS:

  • 400g tin coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
DIRECTIONS:
1. Place 4-5 fresh blueberries at the bottom of each iceblock mould.
2. In a blender, place coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla and rest of the blueberries. Whiz to combine.
3. Pour liquid blueberry mix over the whole blueberries and then freeze for 5 hours, preferably overnight.

 

References:

Dennett, C. (2018). Plant-Based Diets and the Gut Microbiota, Today’s Dietitian Vol. 20, No. 7, P. 36

Herr, L. (2019) Top Fiber-Rich Foods for Good Gut Bacteria. Sourced from http://www.eatingwell.com/article/283531/top-fiber-rich-foods-for-good-gut-bacteria/ 25 Nov, 2019.

Klimenko NS, Tyakht AV, Popenko AS, et al. Microbiome responses to an uncontrolled short-term diet intervention in the Frame of the Citizen Science Project. Nutrients. Published online May 8, 2018.

Lloyd-Price J, Abu-Ali G, Huttenhower C. The healthy human microbiome. Genome Med. 2016;8:51.

Tomova A, Bukovsky I, Rembert E, et al. The effects of vegetarian and vegan diets on gut microbiota. Front Nutr. Published online April 17, 2019.