In 2018, an international group of researchers led by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a study calculating how much longer you can live with a healthy lifestyle. 

For women, healthy habits could increase life expectancy by 14 years. For men, life expectancy could be increased by 12 years!

In terms of nutrition, the study recommended eating a diet high in plants and low in fats, not smoking, and consuming no more than one alcoholic drink a day if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. 

Long term effects of poor nutrition

Poor nutrition is one of the four main risk factors alongside tobacco use, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol consumption for preventable chronic diseases. 

Yet, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. adults eat fruits and vegetables, while 5 in 10 adults consume a sugary drink on a given day.

Quality nutrition is essential for keeping people healthy across the lifespan. Diets high in added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats are highly common as well as highly unhealthy. Such diets also heighten the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

Obesity, one of the primary effects of poor nutrition, is often the gateway to these other negative health outcomes. Obesity is associated with at least 13 types of cancer and these cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed. Looking at it this way, it makes sense that obesity costs the U.S. healthcare system $147 billion a year.

Diets high in sodium and cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. Americans consume more than 3,400 mg of sodium a day on average. Current guidelines, however, recommend getting less than 2,300 mg a day. 

Long term effects of good nutrition

On the flip side, eating foods low in saturated fats and sodium and high in fiber can help prevent high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure–and, in doing so, lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Adults who maintain a healthy diet live longer and with a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Healthy eating can also help people with chronic diseases manage these conditions and puts them at less risk of complications.

The benefits of good nutrition don’t stop there. Here’s a whole list of the positive physical and mental health outcomes of a well-balanced diet:

  • Consistent energy through the day
  • Improved mood
  • Increased physical performance and focus
  • Better sleep
  • Increased self-care
  • Healthier skin
  • Improved mental performance and memory
  • Fewer unhealthy (junk food) cravings
  • Better digestion
  • Healthy weight
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Managed blood sugar
  • Healthy teeth and gums
  • Reduced inflammation

What makes for good nutrition? 

Clearly there are plenty of short and long term benefits to quality nutrition. But, what exactly is a nutritious diet? There’s lots of ways to eat healthy, depending on your diet preferences (Vegetarian? Pescetarian? Keto?). That said, here are some pointers.

A nutritious diet includes…

  1. Vegetables, especially dark leafy greens like spinach and kale
  2. Nuts, like almonds and walnuts
  3. Fruits, like apples and oranges
  4. Fatty fish, like salmon and tuna
  5. Lots of water!

A nutritious diet does not include…

  1. Refined carbohydrates, like white bread
  2. Fried food, like french fries
  3. Soda and other sugary drinks (Tip: if you’re a soda drinker, replace soda with naturally-flavored seltzer water!)
  4. Highly-processed meat, like hot dogs
  5. Margarine (Tip: use olive oil instead for cooking)

Changing your eating habits will be a challenge, but as you now understand, it can have a significant impact on not only your lifespan, but your quality of life as well.

So, invest now in your future happiness and make adopting healthy eating habits a priority. Remember, a little goes a long way.