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Managing chronic illness through diet

Simple dietary changes that incorporate nutritionally balanced meals can be very effective in helping manage — and prevent — chronic health conditions.

March 10, 2023

Managing chronic illness through diet

You may have heard the sayings, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and “prevention is the best medicine.” These are tried and true statements. Especially when it comes to diet and its effects on chronic health conditions.

Poor nutrition is the leading cause of illness in this country. It is also one of the main lifestyle risk factors for developing a chronic condition. Many people undervalue what they eat and its impact on their overall health. Smart nutrition choices can help control certain illnesses such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis

Medications, treatments and doctor and hospital visits can be costly. Especially when managing a chronic illness. But if you or a loved one has a chronic illness, simple diet changes can help. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care spending are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.

It costs less to make lifestyle changes that keep the chronic condition in check. Some changes can even reverse it. Everyone should consume less processed foods and sugary drinks. Eating more fresh and whole foods is great, too. Good nutrition combined with portion control can help maintain a healthy weight. This is key in managing many chronic conditions.

Nutrition suggestions

There is a lot of nutrition advice for people with certain chronic health conditions. Your doctor or nutritionist can make sure those changes fit your health needs and avoid any drug interactions.

Heart disease

Up to 80% of early heart disease and stroke is avoidable. All it takes is a few healthy habits, like a balanced diet and exercise. A healthy diet can help reverse the effects of heart disease. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It can even help stop further narrowing of the arteries. Here are some suggestions:

  • Reduce sodium intake
  • Drink more water and avoid sugary drinks
  • Focus on high fiber foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruit
  • Choose lean meats and fish instead of red meat
  • Consider eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals


The CDC also notes more than 130 million adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes in the U.S. A healthy diet can be an important factor in treating the disease or slowing down its onset. Those with diabetes must focus on controlling blood sugar. Be sure to balance meals with insulin intake and prescription medications.

  • Pick foods that won’t increase blood sugar levels
  • Choose high-fiber foods
  • Have three meals a day at regular intervals
  • Avoid foods with high saturated fat
  • Eat more heart-healthy fish like tuna, salmon and sardines

Chronic kidney disease

Research has found that following a kidney-friendly (renal) diet helps reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and other health conditions that can lead to kidney issues. Good nutrition can reduce further damage to the kidneys. It can keep fluid and waste from building up in the system, too.

  • Control potassium intake (including oranges, cooked spinach, potatoes and tomatoes)
  • Limit phosphorous (which can be found in dairy products, bran and processed meats)
  • Manage fluid intake as some stages of the disease require cutting back on fluids


About 99% of the calcium in the human body is in our bones and teeth. People with osteoporosis have bones that are thin or weak. This can put them at a higher risk of a break or fracture if they have an accident or fall. A well-balanced diet with good sources of calcium is crucial. It can help reduce further bone loss and support better bone health.

  • Choose low-fat dairy, salmon, fruits and vegetables
  • Manage mineral intake including vitamin D, magnesium and potassium
  • Include iron-rich foods like spinach, prunes and peas
  • Limit intake of processed and canned foods

Mom's Meals® can help

Mom’s Meals offers a variety of fully prepared meals that are nutritionally tailored for common health conditions including heart disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes. Each is designed by professional chefs and registered dietitians and provides high-quality, nutritious food delivered right to your home.

Resources for you

Food as Medicine: What Health Care is Doing and What is Working

Learn about the food as medicine concept in our free white paper, Food as Medicine: What Health Care is Doing and What is Working.