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How eating a plant-based diet can improve more than just your digestive health

The target is to incorporate about 30 different types of plants in your meals each week. It's not about the volume, but the diversity.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Forget the food pyramid. Today, doctors say the breakdown of our food groups needs to change. 

As a gastroenterologist, Dr. Sunana Sohi focuses a lot on what’s called the Gut Microbiome.

"It’s basically the trillions of bacteria that live in our intestine," Dr. Sohi said.

Studies show an imbalance of this bacteria can lead to depression and anxiety. So how do you keep your gut happy?

“Plants. It wants plants," she said.

Contrary to the food pyramid, Dr. Sohi says your digestive system doesn't need large amounts of meat and dairy.

"You can eat a lot of what you want in life, but you want plants to be at the base of what you eat," she said.

Dr. Sohi says the target is to incorporate about 30 different types of plants in your meals each week. It's not about the volume, but the diversity.

"Herbs can count as plants. Spices, grains, and legumes. So, it’s not as hard as it seems," Sohi said.

If this feels overwhelming, start small - it’s not all or none. 

"We live in a fast food culture, a culture of convenience so, it can be incredibly hard to make the switch. To me it should be a slow and gradual thing," Sohi said.

RELATED: Community program teaches kids how to grow their own food

It's about taking ownership of your food and taking care of your body.

"A lot of people look at a plant-based diet and go, where do you get your protein? What we know is protein is incredibly overvalued in this society. The question I’d ask them is where do you get your fiber?"

Dr. Sohi suggests doing meatless Mondays to start and loading 3/4 of your plate with fruits and veggies, leaving a quarter of your meal for meats, etc.

"Those small changes over time can make a big difference for people. Less diabetes, less heart disease, less hypertension/blood pressure."

Dr. Sohi says the gut is not a standalone organ. So, even though people may think, my digestive track is fine, but they're tired a lot, or there are issues with their mood, feeding your gut and body healthy things may help things outside of your GI track.

"The way I look at it is, I’d rather have people think, what can I add to my diet rather than what do I have to deprive myself from? What do I have to take away? Life is about joy too, and life should be joyful," she said.

Dr. Sohi acknowledges the food deserts and accessibility issues in our community can make plant-based diets extremely challenging and sometimes costly for families.

"It's a huge problem and that's something we as a society need to work on but we also need to prioritize healthful eating and preventative medicine for people which is not being done right now," Dr. Sohi said.

Contact reporter Brooke Hasch atbhasch@whas11.com. Follow her onTwitter (@WHAS11Hasch) andFacebook.


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