The "5 a day" rule
Happy New Year everyone! In this blog post, I’m going to discuss the importance of eating a good variety of vegetables and fruits in your diet, on top of stating the obvious. Possibly you are all aware of the fact that according to Public Health England we should eat 5 vegetables and fruits in total per day. (If you look up the Eatwell Guide, you can find out more about it.) This can feel a bit daunting because how do you fit in 5 different plant foods in your daily coffee + cereal + black tea + ham and cheese sandwich + macaroni cheese diet? (Also known as the beige Western diet.) Obviously, I am exaggerating but to be honest it’s not unusual to see diets like the above. The 5 a day vegetables and fruits are not only important because they contain plenty of vitamins and minerals and help the body fight the daily oxidative stress but it’s also crucial for our gut health. The friendly bacteria, which can be found in the gut, thrives if it gets a good variety of plant-based food. The state of our gut health influences almost everything in the body from immunity to mood and according to the Human Microbiome Project it is raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease. The friendly bacteria are essential because they teach our immune systems how to recognise dangerous invaders, they break down our food to extract nutrients and even produce helpful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight off other potentially harmful microbes. The microbial communities don't only live in the gut, we can find them on the skin, in the nasal passages or in the oral cavity among other parts of the body. The diversity and composition of the human microbiome is depending not only on our physical status or genotype but also on environmental factors like diet, antibiotic usage and lifestyle. These environmental factors can easily alter the gut’s ecosystem and cause increased susceptibility to infections as well as to chronic diseases like obesity, metabolic syndromes (e.g., diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), allergy and other inflammatory diseases. What is not stated in the government’s recommendation is that ideally, we should eat different fruits and vegetables – up to 25-30 different ones per week. As shocking as it might sound it’s not impossible. I used to eat a maximum of 8-10 different vegetables and fruits per week (and potatoes don’t count!) and now I’m slowly reaching 20-25. Do you wonder what has changed? First of all, I started to make juices, which make it a lot easier to include 5-6 different vegetables (I only juice vegetables apart from the odd apple or pear) but smoothies are also a great way to add in those greens you would rather not eat every day at the start. (Later this could change dramatically and you might find yourself craving green leafy vegetables and even Brussels sprouts… True story!) Secondly, I also try to cook with plenty of fresh herbs, not just with the dried forms. And most importantly, I think about this as a game. The whole process of trying to find a way to include as many different vegetables and fruits in my diet as possible, without making weird tasting dishes is part of my self-made game and it is surprisingly rewarding to play! On the other day, I made a stew and I cooked with 3 different onions (shallots, leeks and ordinary onions), grated some garlic in the pot, added a bit of fresh grated ginger and there were all the other vegetables I was actually cooking. For the seasoning, I chopped up a good bunch of fresh parsley. Now let’s count: 3 onions, 1 clove of garlic, 1 piece of ginger and the bunch of parsley already add up to 6 different vegetables/herbs and I haven’t even counted all the vegetables I was cooking in this dish. I know this takes time but to be honest not that much more as before. Also, I highly recommend some chopping after a challenging day at work, it has a very therapeutic effect. (Even Cate Blanchett has acknowledged it in a recent interview.) You can imagine how pleased I was with myself when I finished this dish: not only it tasted delicious but it also included a record number of plant food in it. If you think you need a change and you want to feel better, have a healthier digestion, a better mood or you want to improve your skin, I’m here to assist you on your journey. In case you want to take smaller steps, I would still recommend eating a good variety of seasonal and ideally organic vegetables and fruits. Beetroots, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, leek, parsnips and turnips are all in season. You can find your nearest farmers market in London on http://www.lfm.org.uk/. If you live outside London, there is almost certainly a delivery company like Abel&Cole or Riverford or if you are in Hungary, try Nekedterem. Another good initiative I’ve seen recently is The Food Assembly, who can be found across Europe. They are connecting local farmers with local people and once you placed your order online, they deliver it to a community place where you can meet the people behind your food plus you might even get to know your neighbours! Have a good start of the year and stay healthy! References: "Human Microbiome Project DACC - About The HMP". Hmpdacc.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017. "5 A DAY - Live Well - NHS Choices". Nhs.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Jan. 2017. Sirisinha, S. "The Potential Impact Of Gut Microbiota On Your Health: Current Status And Future Challenges.". Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 34.4 (2016): 249-264. Web. 5 Jan. 2017. Hyde, Jeanette. The Gut Makeover. 1st ed. London: Quercus, 2015. Print.