One big study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed the effect of a healthy lifestyle on life expectancy. This research used data on 78,000 women and 40,000 men who were followed for 34 and 28 years respectively. 
It considered five factors to determine whether someone is low-risk or high risk for premature mortality. These include diet, smoking/non-smoking habits, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and body mass index. One of the findings is that even just one healthy habit, such as a healthy diet, can lengthen life expectancy by two years. (Although those who have healthy habits in all five areas by age 50 enjoyed even longer lives, specifically 14 years for women and 12 years for men).
According to the study, a healthy diet includes higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats and whole grains and low consumption of red and processed meats, trans fat, sodium, and beverages that are high in sugar.
For patients who are dealing with chronic illnesses, maintaining a healthy diet can help them better cope with their condition. As stated by a Harvard Health Publishing article, “[p]art of the treatment for almost any chronic condition involves lifestyle changes” which include “stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising more, and shifting to healthier eating habits”.
Healthy eating can be challenging for people with limited resources, and those who are managing families and always on the go. Now, with the abundance of fast food choices, almost all of which offer delivery services, it is not surprising if a lot of people fail to eat a healthy and balanced diet regularly.
Unhealthy eating habits, however, can cause a lot of problems both to healthy individuals and those with chronic illnesses. For instance, a poor diet increases a person’s risk of suffering from obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.  Below are a few tips on how you can improve your eating habits:
1. Allocate time to read about nutrition. Learn how much of a certain vitamin or mineral our body needs per day and the kinds of food that provide them. Also take note of the possible effects of deficiency of each one such as osteoporosis, teeth and skin problems due to lack of calcium and Vitamin D which aids in calcium absorption.
2. Get a notebook and list what you eat. Take note of the type of food you usually include in your diet. Is it mostly protein? From what source? Also, identify the kinds of food lacking in your diet. Make a list before you go grocery shopping and stick to it.
3. Make meal planning a priority. Plan meals in advance to ensure you’re meeting daily nutritional requirements and make shopping more efficient. You can also prep your food in advance during weekends so you can easily cook or reheat them on weekdays. If you’re very busy, you can try healthy meal plan deliveries.
4. Continue your food diary, this time ensuring you are able to eat the healthy food you previously didn’t, and lessen your intake of unhealthy foods.
5. Consult your doctor, a dietician or certified nutrition specialist. When making changes in your diet, talk to your physician. This is especially important when you have a health condition or consuming vitamins and supplements.
For instance, if you have a health condition like GERD, too much fat can contribute to acid reflux so you might want to prioritize non-dairy sources of calcium. On the other hand, it is possible for supplements and fortified foods to cause vitamin toxicity when taken beyond the recommended limit.
A healthy balanced diet is essential for wellbeing. It may help prevent certain illnesses and conditions. Read up on increasing your use of eggs, beans, seeds, fruits and vegetables and whole grains. A healthier diet can help people living with chronic illnesses better deal with their condition. Pause and pay attention to what you eat and consult your doctor as necessary.
And if you or someone you know is dealing with a chronic illness, check our list of patient communities here so that you can have a safe and supportive online community.
 Monique Tello, MD, MPH (2020) Healthy lifestyle: 5 keys to a longer life. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/healthy-lifestyle-5-keys-to-a-longer-life-2018070514186
 Harvard Health Publishing (2017). 10 steps for coping with a chronic condition. <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4062-chronic-illness>
 Poor Nutrition. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/nutrition.htm