Managing Your Diet With Chronic Illness

Managing Your Diet With Chronic Illness

Among the most common causes of death in the United States, chronic illness is atop the list, not just for people over the age of 65, but for everyone.

Every year millions of Americans are diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic kidney disease. These diagnoses should lead to radical lifestyle differences, including a change of diet.

Research shows that increasing physical activity, eliminating smoking and alcohol consumption, and adopting a more healthy diet, all decrease the risk of chronic illness, slow disease progression, and reduce symptom severity.

While increasing exercise and removing substances seem straightforward, navigating the right dietary changes can be a daunting task. So we’ve included some tips below to help inspire change.

Chronic Illness And Dieting

In order to achieve greatness in sports or any other passion, the saying goes “You get out what you put in”. And this also holds true for managing your diet.

If we eat too much or are putting in the wrong fuel, we exert stress on our bodies and send the wrong signals. We can slow down metabolism, clog our veins and arteries, and pave the way for the disease to run rampant in our body.

But what does a good diet look like? For starters, throw out everything you remember in school about the health pyramid because it’s no longer the gold standard.

Health experts now recommend a balanced diet that is centered around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

For your protein source, experts recommend lean meats such as poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.

Over the last year, we’ve also seen cultural integration of plant-based proteins that contribute to a well-balanced diet.

Portions are also a huge consideration. According to the NIH, food portions have doubled or tripled in the US over the last 20 years.

Any dietary improvement is a change worth welcoming, but it’s also important to consider your specific diagnosis when implementing dietary changes.

So we’ve listed some considerations for three of the most common chronic diseases:

1. Diabetes

Overall, diabetes affects nearly 35 million Americans, with nearly 27 percent of those with the condition being 65 years or older.

While those diagnosed with Type 1 have to navigate the condition from an early age, the recommendations provided in this article will focus on those with prediabetes or type 2 to reduce blood sugar, achieve weight loss, and reduce complications.

Changes in diet from a diabetes diagnosis are more centered around making wise food choices rather than eliminating food choices altogether.

The most important consideration is geared towards nutritionally balanced choices that maintain blood sugar levels (prevent spikes and dips) and weight maintenance.

If you decrease your weight by just 10 percent, you can reverse your diabetes into remission.

By sticking with the four balanced food groups listed above, reducing sugary snack cravings, you can live a long and healthy life post-diagnosis.

The most important thing to remember is that a well-balanced diet is a spectrum, not an absolute. As long as you have more good days than bad, and making strides in the right direction, that’s progress.

2. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Chronic Kidney Disease is slightly more common than diabetes, affecting 37 million people in the United States.

While there are varying stages of severity with CKD, dietary changes are recommended even in the mildest cases.

In fact, apart from monitoring your kidney function and taking prescribed medication, dietary changes are the most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of complications and slow the progression.

People with CKD are recommended to limit the intake of food with certain ingredients such as:

  • Sodium;
  • Potassium;
  • Phosphorus;
  • Proteins;
  • And fluids.

That’s because they can to a varying degree inhibit proper kidney function.

If your kidneys are not operating at peak efficiency, waste can build up in the body and exacerbate certain health problems.

People with CKD also are recommended to shift their daily value intake of other compounds such as fiber, fats, and sugars.

For more information, consult with your physician or nutritionist to develop a specific plan that fits your lifestyle.

3. Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, along with being the leading cause of death in most racial and ethnic groups.

Additionally, a recent study indicates that more than two-thirds of heart disease-related deaths worldwide could be prevented with a healthier diet.

Specifically, reducing the intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, trans and saturated fats, and high sodium intake were the most egregious offenders.

Health experts recommend those diagnosed with any form of heart disease increase their intake of the four corners of the health wheel (clean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and nuts/whole grains), in addition to increasing omega 3 fatty acid intake.

Large portion intake and high body mass index (BMI) were also risk factors that should be addressed when making dietary changes.


Just like every person is different, everyone’s dietary needs are different as well. If you are concerned about your diet and exercise regimen, consult your doctor to put together a plan that fits your lifestyle.

Remember that many of the deaths related to chronic illness can be preventable. It’s just up to the individuals to take action and seize control of their health.

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