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What is Diet Therapy?

Karyn Maier
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.
Discussion Comments
By yournamehere — On Nov 18, 2010

Although I totally respect the power of food, and the importance of getting your nutrition essentials and diet therapy, I think that some people do tend to overdo it.

I mean, diet and nutrition therapy is great, but I think that its easy to take that too far as a therapy alternative when chemical medication really is the better option.

For instance, you see these people trading in cancer medication and therapy for a diet and nutrition therapy, thinking that they can cure cancer just by what they eat.

Although this may be true in very specific, very limited circumstances, in general, you really need to follow a doctor's regimen with such a serious condition.

So I think that its better to combine the two -- eating a proper diet can absolutely do wonders for your health, but it can't substitute medication in some circumstances.

By musicshaman — On Nov 18, 2010

Have you ever tried out Chinese diet therapy? I have a friend who is a TCM practitioner and dietitian, and he was telling me a little bit about it the other day.

Apparently in Chinese diet therapy, food is seen to be basically the same thing as medicine. Each food is sorted and divided into four main groups and five tastes, and each person needs the proper balance of food from each of the groups.

In Imperial China, they even had court dietitians whose job it was to design meals especially in order to keep the emperor healthy and vital.

Even if you're not very much into TCM, I would argue that there are some benefits to taking the lessons of Chinese diet therapy to heart -- i.e., seeing food for how powerful it really is, and incorporating an appropriate balance of foods in your diet.

If anybody has actually tried this out, I would be really interested to hear your experiences. Has anybody reading this ever done Chinese nutrition and diet therapy?

By rallenwriter — On Nov 18, 2010

Great article! I think so many people forget just how important diet and nutrition are for health. It really is true when people say "you are what you eat" -- the diet just has so much to do with your overall health, and can impact everything from the functioning of your heart to your sleep cycles.

It's really amazing how many people will exercise like fiends or take a ton of medicine to try and make themselves feel healthy and better, yet keep drinking sugary beverages and fatty foods.

I really think that everybody could benefit from a little diet and nutrition therapy. It is simply amazing the kinds of changes you can see in your body with just a little change in diet.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's...
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