Diet therapy is a broad term for the practical application of nutrition as a preventative or corrective treatment of disease. This usually involves the modification of an existing dietary lifestyle to promote optimum health. However, in some cases, an alternative dietary lifestyle plan may be developed for the purpose of eliminating certain foods in order to reclaim health. For example, the latter kind of therapy is often recommended for those who suffer from allergies, including those that are not food-related. Elimination diet therapy is often found to be helpful in improving symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity in children.
There are also a number of diet models that are intended to target or promote greater resistance to specific conditions. Often, these diets are named after a particular region or culture that regularly consume certain kinds of foods and are relatively free of certain diseases. For instance, the Mediterranean Diet stresses the use of healthy sources of monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil. It’s also abundant in lean meats, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables, while red meat and dairy is limited. Studies have shown that those who embrace this kind of diet can significantly reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
Another “specialty” diet, known as the Eskimo Diet, also reduces the risk of heart disease, although there is a clear difference between the dietary habits of this culture and those living along the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the Inuit people of Greenland and Alaska rarely experience heart disease, yet they consume a diet high in both fat and cholesterol. The paradox is due to eating large amounts of fish, namely salmon and mackerel. So, in contrast to the Mediterranean philosophy of striving for monounsaturated fats, the Eskimo Diet is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids instead.
Diet therapy may also be employed in the prevention or supplemental treatment of cancer. The intake of high levels of antioxidants and bioflavonoids that come from many fruits and vegetables deters oxidative stress in the body, which may help to prevent many types of cancer. Specifically, vegetables in the mustard family, such as broccoli and cauliflower, may decrease the risk of stomach and colon cancer. In addition, limiting total fat in the diet to 30 percent of total caloric daily intake may reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer.
Condition-specific diets typically call for the use of a checklist of foods to eat and, more importantly, foods to avoid. For instance, diet therapy for arthritis consists of anti-inflammatory foods, and the elimination of foods high in oxalic acid and those known to decrease calcium absorption. A diet for depression, on the other hand, seeks to promote increased production of certain brain hormones, such as serotonin, by increasing complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.