Healthy diet principles

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Jacqueline Gentry, M.D., family medicine physician with CHI Memorial Primary Care Associates – Atrium

It’s that time of year when people are excited about healthy New Year’s resolutions, and I would like to share a few healthy principles to consider.

Many of us our familiar with counting calories, but we miss thinking about macronutrients which are the three main categories of food.

It’s important to get a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies need each of these to function.  In the typical American diet, we gravitate towards eating fast food and snacks which contain high amounts of fats and carbs - and not always good fats and carbs. We need to consider proportions of food rather than what seems healthy based on a nutrition label.

Serving sizes are based on weight and how active you are.  It’s helpful to talk with your physician or a nutritionist to find out serving sizes that fit your lifestyle.  I like to use some of the Zone diet principles for guidance which is geared toward an active lifestyle.

Balanced diet

About one-third of your meal should be protein. I like eating more plant protein than animal because of cardiovascular benefits. Legumes are a great source. These are a good source of fiber, protein, zinc, iron, and b vitamins. Examples include chickpeas, lentils, and beans.

The next third of your meal should consist of healthy fats. Fats are important for energy and brain health. They cushion our organs and have other important roles. Fats from plants are the healthiest. Avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish are good sources.

Carbs should make up 30-40% of our meal. While carbohydrates fuel our body, some help maintain our energy more than others. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of different forms of carbs, but the short version is most carbohydrates should come from colorful vegetables and fruits. Vegetables are the ideal because they generally contain less sugar than fruit.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. A good guideline to follow is shopping on the perimeter - though skipping the bakery, of course - helps keep you on track.

My veggie super stars 

  • Beets – They do come with a warning because they contain a higher sugar content, but they are nitrate rich which improves blood flow and naturally lowers blood pressure.
  • Bell peppers – These are easy to add in to several kinds of dishes or eat raw. They are valuable source of nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Zucchini - Zoodles are all the rage!  Zucchini is low in sugar, high in fiber and electrolytes.
  • Cabbage – It’s an unsung hero, and great for the immune system which helps with acute and chronic illness.


As far as exercise goes, we often think that getting healthy means getting back on that treadmill. While cardio is good for us, research shows that strength training is also important.

Lifting weights is amazing for bone health and weight loss or just maintaining a healthy weight.  It also improves blood sugar levels and may improve cognitive function.  You can use weight resistance bands, dumb bells, or your own body weight.  Weight training twice a week helps mix up your workout routine, and helps you see results faster.  Weights don’t make you bulky, and you don’t have to be a power lifter. To learn how to lift weights, it’s helpful to find someone who knows proper technique like a personal trainer.     

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