“Aiming for 30 different plants in your diet per week has been shown to be the optimum amount for a healthy gut microbiome,” says Kirsten Jackson, RD, consultant gut health dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. When working on the American Gut Project, she explains, researchers studied over 11,000 people from around the world and looked at the intersection between diet and lifestyle and the health of a person’s gut microbiome. What they uncovered through their analysis of all the data was that there was one clear indicator of a healthy gut microbiome, and that was the diversity of plants in their diet. “Using different leaves in your salads is one easy way you can do this.”
In short, every single plant and every single type of salad green packs a unique blend of fiber, antioxidants, and prebiotics, which feed the microbes that live in your digestive tract. “These microbes are as alive as you and I are,” Will Bulsiewicz, MD, gastroenterologist and New York Times bestselling author of Fiber Fueled and The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, previously told Well+Good. “It’s easy to dismiss them, because you and I can’t see them. But they they need to eat, and they have their own unique dietary preferences,” he says. The wider the range of plants you embrace in your diet, the more and different types of fibers and polyphenols you get. This means you’re providing more food for the diverse species of microbes, which helps empower them to work hard and better support your digestive system.
The wider the range of plants you embrace in your diet, the more and different types of fibers and polyphenols you get. This means you’re providing more food for the diverse species of microbes, which helps empower them to work hard and better support your digestive system.
The good news is that, according to Jackson, there is no one type of green that’s better than another—the key to making the healthiest salad recipe is focusing on diversity of ingredients rather than honing in on whatever leafy green is trending at the moment. For example, while spinach and kale tend to reign supreme as leading “superfoods,” romaine lettuce actually offers 40 percent of your daily vitamin K needs, 25 percent of your daily vitamin A needs, and 15 percent of your daily folate requirement. Even better, you can mix several different lettuces in your salad bowl to create one seriously nourishing lunch or side dish (we love a gut-boosting arugula and sauerkraut combo).
One exciting way to explore new-to-you greens is by seeing what’s fresh at your local farmers market, food stand, or food co-op. You’ll often get the most bang for your buck nutrient-wise with food that’s in-season and has traveled the shortest distance to get to your plate. We also encourage thinking outside the box by using up beet and radish greens in a salad to prevent food waste while upping the nutritional ante of your salad. Additionally, sprouts will bring some serious health benefits to your cobb, nicoise, or waldorf salad and can likely be found at your neighborhood farmers market or grocery store.
Now, there’s no need to choke down a salad for the sake of trying yet another new type of lettuce. But, just as the CDC advises, it may take up to 10 tries for a toddler to like a food, this may be the same with trying out greens in adulthood—especially bitter picks like radicchio or Swiss chard. If you’re content with your current salad greens lineup, there’s always the option to add a new veggie, fruit, nut, seed, or grain to your bowl as well to help you reach that gut-friendly goal of 30 plants per week. Healthiest salad, achieved. Happy crunching!