The Power of Plant Points

By Heather Sheridan  ●  June 24, 2023

I was enjoying life, and yet, I would find myself having abdominal spasms and losing weight I wasn’t trying to lose.

I was diagnosed at 21 with Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Diarrhea (IBS-D). I had just graduated from university, had my first (low-paying, not super stressful) job as a copy editor for the Vermont and Albany editions of TV Guide, and, for some reason, I was losing weight. I was exercising regularly, eating something between a Mediterranean and standard American diet minus the red meat. I was enjoying life as a twentysomething, and yet, I would find myself having abdominal spasms and losing weight I wasn’t trying to lose. Having found no specific causes for concern, I was given an IBS-D diagnosis, prescribed medication for when the abdominal spasms hit and sent on my way. And for the next twenty years, the problems persisted and oftentimes were even made worse, specifically after eating a rich dessert like crème brûlée or even ice cream.

It wasn’t until moving to Asia in 2011 that I began to notice my ISB-D symptoms begin to subside. My body responded well to eating more diverse, less processed foods, especially fruits and vegetables that weren’t part of my western diet. I was consuming fewer dairy products and only had milk in my coffee. I was drinking less coffee and more green tea. Then, in 2016, I had a doctor run some allergy tests and learned that I was very sensitive to the casein protein in milk, so I decided to cut dairy completely out of my diet. This meant giving up yogurt and the healthy probiotics it contained, so I began to learn more about the gut microbiome and how to keep mine healthy, and the answer wasn’t just to consume more probiotics, but to consume more plants. In fact, the recommendation from all of the literature suggested consuming at least30-40 different plants a week.

Thirty sounded like a lot, especially to someone who grew up eating one or two fruits or vegetables at each meal. I hadn’t eaten red meat in decades, I gave up dairy, and not long after I stopped eating poultry. Then Covid hit, and suddenly I was home with a lot more time. Working from home with the whole family under one roof in Brussels, the only escape was the forest nearby and my tiny kitchen. As my running time increased, so did the need to fuel my body in a healthy way, and with more free time came the opportunity to explore different plant-based recipes. Eating at least ten different plant-based foods a day started as a challenge but quickly became the norm, sometimes getting the ten in a single meal.

I often start my morning with a plant-based porridge like steel cut oats, teff, buckwheat or quinoa flakes. I’ll use a plant-based milk, add in hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. I add in my homemade Women’s Zen superfoods blend, and I then flavor with a dollop of nut butter (usually almond or peanut butter, all natural and unprocessed with no added oils). I add fruit, at least five different fruits like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, a half of banana and then something tangy like passionfruit or pomegranate. I sprinkle with a healthy dose of cinnamon, and, just like that, I’ve easily reached more than ten plant points. Keep in mind, each whole grain, nuts/seeds, legumes, fruit and vegetables are one point each. Spices count for ¼ point. So, by doing the math (not counting the plant-based milk as its processed), my breakfast alone, which I eat this particular combination about four times a week, adds up to 14 ¼ points, nearly half the weekly recommended amount for a healthy gut microbiome!

Morning Porridge Plant Points:

  • Whole grain: 1
  • Seeds: 5 (hemp, chia, flax, sunflower and pumpkin)
  • Superfoods blend: 1 (really, it’s more than one but I only count it as one)
  • Nut butter: 1
  • Fruit: 6 (four types of berries, banana and passion fruit)
  • Cinnamon: ¼

Now combine breakfast with a homemade poke bowl or Buddha bowl for dinner and you’ll get to your 30 in almost one day. Keep going with the variety, and you’ll make it to the threshold of 30, and maybe even 40, in a single week easier than you thought possible.

My obsession became my passion, and I completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate, from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell to solidify my knowledge of the latest research in the area of whole foods plant-based nutrition. The research shows that the more diverse one’s diet, rich in whole foods and plants, the stronger their gut microbiome is, and the stronger the gut microbiome, the better our bodies are able to support digestion, regulate blood sugar and have a healthier immune system. Eating more plants means getting more fiber and having less inflammation. Is my gut perfect? No, but I can tell you I have not had an IBS-D flare up in years and my digestive system works like clockwork. Do I miss eating certain foods? Honestly, I don’t miss most things because there are so many great plant-based alternatives to the things I like, but if I had to say one thing I miss, it would have to be a good, aged, sharp cheese!