Eating 30 different plants a week to improve your gut health might sound like an ambitious aim. Especially if you’ve got yourself stuck in a rut of eating the same fruit and veg on rotation.

But, once you set your mind to it, the 30-a-week challenge becomes surprisingly (and enjoyably) easy to achieve.

By employing some useful strategies and incorporating just a few of my plant-laden recipes in to your weekly menu — many of which I’m delighted to be sharing with you today in Weekend magazine, tomorrow in YOU and in Monday’s Daily Mail — you’ll soon realise it’s well within your grasp.

My new book, How To Eat 30 Plants A Week, is brimming with veg and fruit and other primary plant ingredients, as we’ll see. But for the omnivores among us — including me — there are also some well-chosen meat and fish dishes, always underpinned by a plethora of pleasing plants.

‘I don’t just want you to eat up your greens. I also want you to cram every colour of the rainbow, and all the nutty, pulsey shades of brown, into your day-to-day eating habits.’

What I'm also including here might surprise you: nuts, herbs, seeds and spices; various dried pulses and whole grains; olive oil and black pepper; even chocolate and coffee — they all count towards your 30-plant tally (File)

What I’m also including here might surprise you: nuts, herbs, seeds and spices; various dried pulses and whole grains; olive oil and black pepper; even chocolate and coffee — they all count towards your 30-plant tally (File)

The plant kingdom really is a wonderfully exciting place from which to cook. It’s where we find the greatest variety of fantastic flavours and textures to bring into our kitchens.

This presents endless opportunities — whether we’re meat-eating, vegetarian or vegan — to fill our plates with all kinds of deliciousness, either as the main event, an exciting side dish, or to be used as tasty ingredients mixed with other scrumptious things.

Snacking counts, even if it’s chocolate! 

There is no shame in a little healthy snacking to help you reach your weekly 30-plants target. And there’s no doubt in my mind which are the best food groups to help you do this: nuts and seeds; raw veg; seasonal fresh and dried fruits (the latter in moderation, as they have quite high concentrated sugars). And why not a little dark chocolate?

To keep your snacking healthy and plant-based, and to avoid the temptation to grab something manufactured when you’re on the go, it helps to prep. When I’m travelling for work, I often take a little tin of my seven-plant trail mix, which includes nuts, seeds, dried fruit and a little dark chocolate.

And if I’ve got a few minutes in the morning, I’ll also do a tub of crunchy veg — carrots, celery, fennel and apple wedges is a favourite combo. You can also tip in a few nuts and seeds, or even a sprinkling of herbs or whole seed spices.

This way of eating is simple to follow and will bring us great pleasure, as well as good health, day after day.

We just need to open ourselves up to the astonishingly wide repertoire that the plant world has to offer — and that reaches way beyond the obvious fruit and vegetables that immediately spring to mind.

What I’m also including here might surprise you: nuts, herbs, seeds and spices; various dried pulses and whole grains; olive oil and black pepper; even chocolate and coffee — they all count towards your 30-plant tally.

So, I don’t just want you to eat up your greens. I also want you to cram every colour of the rainbow, and all the nutty, pulsey shades of brown, into your day-to-day eating habits.

There is a huge and growing consensus that including loads of plants in our diets is the very best way to boost our gut health and keep us well.

As Professor Tim Spector, an expert in epidemiology and gut health, has written in the introduction to my new book, it was his research which found that 30 different plants a week is the optimal number to aim for — and can reap huge rewards.

Alongside our genetic make-up, and our immediate environment, gut health is being confirmed as one of the principle factors that determine our health and, potentially, our longevity.

And, as Tim explains, science has found that nurturing our gut microbiome with a varied, largely plant-based, diet makes us more likely to sleep better, move more, benefit from improved mood and energy levels, and generally enjoy life more.

It also reduces our risk of certain cancers, strengthens our immune system and is great for brain health.

The fact that our good gut bacteria respond well to diverse plants in general, and high levels of fibre in particular, is now vital knowledge for anyone looking for simple ways to improve their overall health.

Cutting to the chase, it means we just need to eat plenty of high fibre plants, such as oats, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains, to do our gut the world of good.

Luckily, I’ve yet to find a fruit or vegetable I don’t enjoy. And I’ve long since recognised that in terms of getting daily satisfaction and goodness from my cooking, plants are where it’s at.

'However you choose to keep the score, if you get past 20 different plants in a week (you absolutely will!) you'll immediately have 30 in your sights.'

‘However you choose to keep the score, if you get past 20 different plants in a week (you absolutely will!) you’ll immediately have 30 in your sights.’

Just in case you were wondering, you can only count each plant once in a week. So, if you are currently eating carrots or kale — or walnuts or even watercress — twice, or indeed several times, a week, that's great, but you only get to count them once...

Just in case you were wondering, you can only count each plant once in a week. So, if you are currently eating carrots or kale — or walnuts or even watercress — twice, or indeed several times, a week, that’s great, but you only get to count them once…

A few years ago I was approaching my 50th birthday and feeling that I needed to lose some weight, and I wanted to do so in a permanent and sustainable way.

I decided it was vital to cut right back on processed foods and embrace more wholefoods — by which I mean foods that are simply closer to their natural state. I also decided to eat less meat. I didn’t want to cut out meat altogether but I kept several days a week meat-free.

Enjoy a bean feast 

Most of us could happily get more beans, lentils and chickpeas into our cooking.

They are so good for us, containing plenty of plant protein, fibre and micro-nutrients such as iron and some B vitamins.

They are also helpful when we are looking to reduce the amount of meat we eat (a good idea for so many reasons). And they are great for filling us up.

If you enjoy pulses, but don’t often get round to eating them, adding them to recipes is an easy fix. However, if you are a pulse sceptic (maybe because you think beans and lentils are boring and bland), how can I persuade you to change your mind?

Perhaps you could stop thinking about them in isolation, as boring beans in a tin, or a virtue-signalling pile of lentils on the side of a plate. Start mingling them in your mind with other delicious ingredients, just as I’ve mingled them in all sorts of saucy ways in the recipes you’ll find in today’s Weekend magazine.

Recipes that include pulses are great, but once you get into the swing of it, improvising with them is also a blast, because they are so easy to use — simply open a tin! Tinned pulses are minimally processed and retain all the goodness you would get by cooking them.

To be properly tender and palatable, dried beans need to be soaked overnight and boiled for an hour and more. I still do that sometimes, but much more often I use beans from tins.

Lentils, on the other hand, I generally cook from scratch. Most varieties can be cooked to tender in 20 minutes or under (soaking them for an hour is a useful preliminary). But tinned lentils are also very handy.

I still raise some livestock at home and at River Cottage, and still cook meat and fish with great enthusiasm — always accompanied by lots of plants — but, in any given week, there will now be more days when I don’t eat meat or fish than when I do.

Meat and fish are temptingly special foods and, in moderation, they are good for us but, in terms of variety of flavours and variety of goodness, they don’t come close to what plants can offer.

The difference between pork and beef is notable, of course, and the difference between lamb and mackerel even more so. But it’s nothing compared to the difference between a leek and a walnut, a parsnip and a chilli, or an apple and a coriander seed.

And while braising, charring and roasting are cooking methods you might more normally associate with preparing meat or fish for the table, many vegetables respond in mouth-watering ways to similar treatment.

If you’re barbecuing, why not put a couple of bunches of spring onions on the grill to char and soften and gain some deliciously smoky notes? You can then chop and stir them into a herby salsa verde to serve as a side.

Meanwhile, grilling, crisping and caramelising vegetables (and sometimes fruits) will create exciting flavours that are unachievable in any other way.

The preparation of plant ingredients to be roasted or baked can be a real pleasure.

I love layering potatoes and cabbage for a gratin of greens, placing the potato slices neatly to form the final layer, and knowing that when it comes out of the oven it will be burnished and crisp and looking glorious.

When it comes to eating well, a readiness to do a bit of chopping and slicing, crushing or grating will pay you back a hundredfold.

By lavishing a bit of attention on preparation, followed by the fierce heat of the oven, we can make plant-based roasts every bit as tempting as roast meat and baked fish. Take, for example, fennel and leeks, which come from the oven soft and beautifully caramelised, like ‘pulled veg’.

When I was growing up my Mum served up greens, lightly buttered, on the side of my plate. She was never one to overcook them, but recognised that steaming or wilting the greens just long enough to make them tender is the best way to retain their appealing sweetness — and their goodness, too.

She still serves them like this, and so do I from time to time. A tip to maximise the appeal of this approach is to gently sizzle a grated clove of garlic in a little butter or oil and toss with the tender greens. This works for green beans, peas and even carrots, and can be effective in tempting kids to eat more veg.

The above are just a few perfect examples of how to maximise flavour and opportunity, and to get the best out of plants.

As Tim Spector points out, there are around 11,000 known edible plants. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to eat them all!

But I am going to record a very useful bunch of them in My Big Plant List, reproduced here today. I’ve divided them into a series of what I consider pragmatic, rather than strictly scientific, categories.

There are more than 200 in all, which may sound a lot, but I’d be amazed if there’s anything in the list you haven’t heard of. And surprised if there are more than just a few you haven’t tasted.

However, I bet there are loads that have fallen off your radar.

You can then use this list to count your plant intake — an infallible way to ensure you really are making progress.

So please, set to with a pencil and see how much fun counting your plant intake can be, revisiting My Big Plant List regularly to remind yourself what you’ve been missing out on.

(Just in case you were wondering, you can only count each plant once in a week. So, if you are currently eating carrots or kale — or walnuts or even watercress — twice, or indeed several times, a week, that’s great, but you only get to count them once.)

You may very well be impressed at how many plants you are already consuming, and I’m sure this will inspire you to take in even more!

It’s always rewarding to mark your progress, to see your list of plants eaten grow longer every week, and to note how much you are also enjoying them.

However you choose to keep the score, if you get past 20 different plants in a week (you absolutely will!) you’ll immediately have 30 in your sights.

I am sure you’re already thinking about recipes you love to cook, so what extra plant ingredients could you add to these?

If you’re a keen baker, what seeds or nuts could you throw into your bread, or even cakes?

If you like spices, what useful ones are missing from your spice rack? When did you last cook parsnips or cauliflower, which actually you love!

I know you’re going to find it exciting to embark on the 30 Plants A Week journey, but you don’t have to do it all at once.

To begin with, just add a few extra fresh veg and fruit, and a few extra store cupboard ingredients, to your weekly shop.

You can start with the ones that will help you cook the recipes featured here in the Mail over the next few days.

Above all, I hope that My Big Plant List will help you to realise it’s actually no great stretch to use and enjoy quite a lot more than 30 plants a week — which would be very good news indeed for your gut.

  • Adapted from How To Eat 30 Plants A Week by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £25). © Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall 2024. To order a copy for £21.25 (offer valid to 19/05/24; UK P&P free on orders over £25), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. 

From cucumber to coriander, here are 200 tasty things to put on your shopping list 

There are loads of accessible, affordable plants, fresh and dried, frozen and tinned, pickled and even fermented, sitting on the shelves of a shop not far from you.

Right now, you are probably only taking home a fraction of that rich bounty — but this can and will change! Next time you shop, consult My Big Plant List before you go. There are more than 200 plants in all, so plenty to choose from to comfortably get 30 different ones in your shopping trolley, whatever the season. You can also use this list to keep a tally of your plant intake in any given week. I’m confident you’ll soon be clocking up your 30, and more, with minimal effort and maximum pleasure.

1. LEAFY GREENS

Cabbages (including spring greens)

Kales

Spinach

Chard

Pak choi

Brussels sprouts

Watercress

Nettles

2. BRASSICA SPROUTS

Calabrese broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli

Cauliflower

Tenderstem broccoli

Romanesco

3. ROOTS

Carrots

Beetroot

Parsnips

Celeriac

Swede

Turnips

Jerusalem artichokes

Kohlrabi

Radishes

Potatoes (peel on!)

4. ALLIUMS

Onions

Red onions

Spring onions

Garlic

Leeks

Chives

Wild garlic

5. CRUNCHY STEMS AND LEAVES

Celery

Fennel

Asparagus

Chicory

Radicchio

Globe artichokes

6. SOFT SALAD LEAVES

Lettuces

Baby spinach

Rocket

Oriental greens

Pea shoots

Sorrel

7. GREEN BEANS AND PEAS (summer only)

Green (French) beans

Runner beans

Mangetout

Broad beans

8. HANDY FROZEN VEGetables

Peas

Sweetcorn

Spinach

Edamame beans

Broad beans

9. CUCURBIT family AND AUBERGINES

Cucumber

Courgettes

Pumpkin and squash

Aubergines

10. TOMATOES

Fresh

Tinned

Passata

Sun-dried

11. AVOCADOS

12. PEPPERS AND CHILLIES

Green, red and yellow peppers

Romano (long) peppers

Chillies (red and green)

13. MUSHROOMS

Flat

Portobello

Button

Chestnut

Oyster

Shiitake

King oyster

Wild mushrooms

Dried porcini

14. PRESERVED VEG (in vinegar or oil)

Olives

Capers

Gherkins

Pickled onions

Pickled beetroot

Artichoke hearts

15. LEAFY SALAD HERBS

Parsley

Mint

Chives

Coriander

Basil

Rocket

Nasturtiums (leaves/flowers)

Dill

Tarragon

16. PUNGENT HERBS

Rosemary

Thyme

Bay leaves

Oregano/marjoram

Sage

17. SEAWEEDS AND SHORE VEG

Nori sheets

Sea lettuce

Dulse

Kelp

Seaweed

Samphire

18. EVERYDAY FRUIT BOWL

Apples

Pears

Plums

Bananas/plantains

Grapes

Cherries

19. CITRUS

Lemons

Oranges

Clementines

Easy peelers, etc

Limes

Grapefruit

20. SUMMER BERRIES

Strawberries

Raspberries

Blueberries

Blackberries

Blackcurrants/ redcurrants/ white currants

Gooseberries

Rhubarb (honorary fruit!)

21. MEDITERRANEAN/EXOTIC FRUIT BOWL

Peaches

Nectarines

Melon

Watermelon

Apricots

Figs

Kiwi

Mango

Pomegranate

Papaya

Passion fruit

Pineapple

22. DRIED FRUITS

Raisins

Sultanas

Apricots

Prunes

Apple

Pear

Dates

Figs

Cranberries

23. NUTS

Peanuts

Hazelnuts

Walnuts

Almonds

Pecans

Brazil nuts

Pine nuts

Cashews

Chestnuts

Pistachios

24. TINNED PULSES

Butter beans

Chickpeas

Cannellini beans

Flageolet beans

Black beans

Red kidney beans

Borlotti beans

Pinto beans

Carlin peas

Black-eyed beans

Mung beans

Aduki beans (and any other beans!)

25. DRIED PULSES

Red lentils

Puy lentils

Green lentils

Brown lentils

Yellow split peas

26. WHOLE GRAINS (plus grain flours, bread and pasta)

Wheat

Oats

Barley

Spelt

Rye

Brown Rice

Quinoa

Cornmeal (polenta)

Buckwheat

Bulgar wheat

27. SEEDS

Sunflower

Pumpkin

Sesame (and tahini)

Poppy

Flax

Chia

Hemp

28. SPICES

Black pepper

Cumin

Coriander

Caraway

Chilli flakes (with seeds)

Paprika

Fennel seeds

Nutmeg

Allspice

Cardamom

Cinnamon

Turmeric (including fresh)

Ginger (including fresh)

Mustard (seeds and jars of ready-made)

29. UNREFINED OILS (extra virgin/ cold-pressed)

Olive

Rapeseed

Coconut

Sunflower

Sesame (toasted)

Walnut

Hemp

30. STIMULANTS

Coffee

Black tea

Green tea

Dark/raw chocolate

Cacao/cocoa/chocolate