Why A Personalized Therapeutic Diet Can Improve Your Health

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The word diet can sound intimidating, rigid, and scary. A therapeutic diet is a good diet because your health is the top priority. So, what is a therapeutic diet exactly?

dietitian with fruit displayed on a desk
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What is a Therapeutic Diet?

Therapeutic Diet Definition

A therapeutic diet is an adopted way of eating to improve or enhance your nutrition and health, typically under a dietitian or physician’s guidance. Therapeutic diets serve the purpose of sustaining, correcting or restoring your status of nutrition (source).

Depending on your health needs, a therapeutic diet may provide more or fewer calories, limited amounts or extra amounts of vitamins and minerals, and food restrictions if you have food allergies. The goal of a therapeutic diet is always optimal health and nutrition (source).

Why Follow a Therapeutic Diet?

A health condition may make following a therapeutic diet necessary. You may have renal disease and need to monitor your potassium intake from foods. You could have Celiac disease and need to start a gluten-free diet to restore your gut health.

Maybe your child has just been diagnosed with a dairy allergy, and you are concerned about their calcium and vitamin D intake. Therapeutic diets are more common than they may sound. Here are some types of therapeutic diets.

dietitian at a desk with fruit discussing a personalized therapeutic diet

Therapeutic Diet Types


The Diabetic Diet

What It Is

This carbohydrate-controlled diet will help you keep your blood sugars as stable as possible. Whether you have Type 1 or Type II Diabetes Mellitus, eating too many carbohydrates can cause your blood sugars to rise too high.

Diabetes happens when your body has a hard time keeping the blood sugars regular due to a lack of insulin or insulin resistance. 

There is truly no one “Diabetic Diet” as these diets have to be customized for each individual person. Some people have to measure the amount of carbohydrates at each meal. Some people have to measure other foods or nutrients as well.

The amount of carbohydrates per meal may vary depending on energy requirements, activity levels, medication, digestive function, exercise schedule and other factors.

diabetic meal being prepared

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

Consistently elevated blood sugars over time can cause damage to your organs, eyes, and nerves, causing blindness and even loss of limbs. 

What To Do

Many foods have carbohydrates like grains, fruits, dairy foods, desserts, and sweetened beverages. A dietitian can create a meal plan to help you manage how many grams of carbohydrates you eat at meals and snack times and ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients like healthy fats and protein.

The Gluten-Free Diet

What It Is

The gluten-free diet is crucial if you have Celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease where your body cannot tolerate gluten. If you don’t have Celiac disease, you may have a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity that warrants following a gluten-free meal plan.

gluten free foods displayed on a table for a therapeutic diet

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. In Celiac Disease, eating gluten-containing foods causes inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining, leading to malabsorption and poor health.

If you have Celiac disease or gluten intolerance and you’ve ingested gluten by mistake, you may have experienced extreme gastrointestinal upset.

What To Do

To avoid eating gluten, you must avoid food products made with wheat or flour like bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, muffins, cereals, and some beverages. The list of gluten-containing foods is very complex and following a gluten-free diet can be easier to navigate under a Dietitian’s guidance.

The DASH Diet

What It Is

This therapeutic diet is an acronym for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The DASH diet helps lower blood pressure by reducing sodium intake and increasing vitamins and minerals. It may also be helpful for general heart health and weight loss.

grilled salmon with green vegetables, tomatoes, and potatoes

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

High blood pressure puts stress on your heart and can lead to other heart diseases. It can also put you at risk for stroke and kidney disease (source).

What To Do

The DASH diet includes a high intake of fruits and vegetables, a moderate amount of whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins. Saturated fat-containing foods and sweets are limited on this diet plan. You can consult a dietitian for a personalized plan.

The Renal Diet

What It Is

Renal is a medical term for the kidneys. The kidneys are in charge of maintaining a healthy balance of minerals and nutrients in the body (source)

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

If you or a loved one has kidney disease, the kidneys cannot properly do their job in maintaining the nutrient balancing act as described above. This means there may be high levels of nutrients in the body that can cause toxicity if not filtered out the right way.

Because of this, nutrients like protein, sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus need to be closely monitored through dietary changes.

dietitian preparing a salad for a therapeutic diet

What To Do

Following the renal therapeutic diet may help reduce kidney disease progression and help maintain adequate and balanced nutrition. Work with a dietitian to determine your personal needs for calories, fat, protein, and nutrient intake. Similar to other diets, this is not a one-size-fits-all diet.

Renal Diets are customized to the individual person based on their weight, disease state, labs and other factors. This can be one of the most challenging therapeutic diets because many foods may need to be avoided and because the Renal diet doesn’t look like the “typical” healthy diet.

The Ketogenic Diet

What It Is

Carbohydrates are one of the largest components of foods and the body’s primary source of energy. This diet is very low in carbohydrates, which forces the body to turn to another source of energy. Ketosis occurs when the body breaks down stored fat into ketone bodies to use as fuel (source).

keto steak salad with tomatoes and cheese

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

Though it is a popular diet known to cause rapid weight loss, the ketogenic diet is much more important than one may assume. This diet is used therapeutically for adults and children who have epilepsy and has been found very effective (source).

What To Do

People sometimes assume that the Ketogenic Diet is simply high protein low in carbs. However, most ketogenic diets are moderate in protein and high in fat, as well as low in carbohydrates. Foods like meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and nuts are usually included.

If you think this therapeutic diet may help you, please seek the guidance of a physician or dietitian. It is important to plan this diet well so macronutrient needs can be calculated and so that micronutrient needs can be assessed and planned for.

The Food Allergy and Food Intolerance Modification Diet

What It Is

A food allergy occurs when your body recognizes a food as a threat and fights against that food, causing a cascade of reactions. A food allergy is typically a protein in the food. The top 8 food allergens are wheat, soy, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, and shellfish.

A food intolerance may occur when you cannot digest a nutrient in food because you lack certain digestive enzymes needed. You may be lactose intolerant if drinking milk or milk products cause diarrhea. This means you have a reduced ability to digest the natural sugar in milk called lactose.

Other adverse food reactions include food sensitivities and chemical sensitivities and reaction related to histamine intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

eggs, shrimp strawberries displayed on a wood background

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

Because food allergies can be life-threatening, following a therapeutic diet to avoid that food can mean life or death. Food intolerances and other adverse food reactions are not usually life-threatening, but following a therapeutic diet can help make you much more comfortable by preventing symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea.

Therapeutic Diets are also designed to make sure that dietary restrictions do not lead to lack of variety or low nutrient intake.

What To do

Living with either a food allergy or food intolerance takes some meal planning to ensure you are still getting adequate nutrition through other foods you are eating. You can work with a certified LEAP specialist and dietitian for guidance.

The Low FODMAPs Diet

What It Is

The small intestine does not absorb short-chain carbohydrates very well, which causes digestive upset (source). The acronym FODMAPS means fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (source). These are types of short-chain carbohydrates.

The Low FODMAPs diet helps to determine the cause of digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome and small bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (source).

zoodles with a tomato sauce on a white plate

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

Let’s face it, tummy upset and gas is just plain uncomfortable. If you struggle with gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation and have not been able to determine the cause, you might consider a low FODMAPs diet to pinpoint the problem foods (source).

What To Do

Because FODMAPs are in many foods, this diet can be very restrictive. Foods like beans, lentils, dairy, asparagus, onions, and apples are examples of high FODMAP foods that would need to be avoided for up to six weeks and then slowly added back in (source).

Please consult with a doctor or dietitian before attempting this therapeutic diet. 

The High-Fiber Diet

What It Is

A diet is a way of eating that focuses on foods rich in fiber, which is a carbohydrate type known to help with digestion.

high fiber foods displayed on a gray background

Why it is a Therapeutic Diet

If you have ever been constipated, you know what it feels like to be desperate for relief. Your doctor may recommend a high-fiber diet to prevent diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome,  hemorrhoids, and colon cancer (source).

What To Do

To increase the fiber in your diet, you should shoot for getting 25 grams per day if you are a woman and 38 grams per day if you are a man. High-fiber foods include beans, lentils, bran cereals, oatmeal, broccoli, and popcorn.

A dietitian can give you a full list of high-fiber foods to eat. High fiber diets usually require higher amounts of water intake as well.

infographic on therapeutic diets

Bottom Line

Your nutrition and health are indispensable. If you have a medical condition, a therapeutic diet may be needed maintain or restore your health. It tailors the diet to help you manage your health condition, enhance your nutrition, and make you feel better so you can be yourself.

Before starting any therapeutic diet, please speak with your physician or dietitian to best support your needs. These diets are based on established guidelines but also customized for each individual person. Sometimes therapeutic diets have to be combined.

Therapeutic diets are designed for specific health and medical conditions and designed to work in combination with other medical care. These are not fad diets and don’t always align with popular diets trends.


therapeutic diet pinterest graphic

Authors

  • Lisa Hugh is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Leap Therapist. She has a Masters of Science in Healthcare Administration. As a a Food Sensitivity Expert, her passion is helping people with complex medical and nutrition needs find food and groceries that are safe and enjoyable. Lisa enjoys helping clients in her private practice.

  • Gabrielle McPherson is a Registered Dietitian and Freelance Writer. Gabrielle has a masters degree in Clinical Nutrition and a bachelors degree in Dietetics. She has worked extensively with pediatrics and works as a freelance health and nutrition writer.

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