Medical Nutrition Therapy: More Powerful Than You Think

Sarah McIlvaine
Author | Shield HealthCare
05/02/16  4:16 PM PST

When you think of a treatment for illness or injury, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Pills, stitches, infusions, surgery?

But you would be forgetting a powerful medicine – the food on your plate!

What is medical nutrition therapy?

Medical nutrition therapy is a therapeutic approach to prevention and treatment of disease with healthy eating and nutrition that is meant to supplement your physician-prescribed treatment. The nutritional plan is developed by a dietitian who has reviewed your specific needs. Your dietitian will review your eating habits and diet, and come up with a plan to provide your body the best food for you and your specific medical condition.

Why use medical nutrition therapy?

The short answer is: it can be highly effective as part of a medically prescribed treatment plan. Your diet makes a bigger difference than you probably think. Much research has found medical nutrition therapy strengthens your treatment of a variety of conditions – from diabetes and hypertension, to wound care, to cancer.

The Diabetes Prevention Program studied 3,234 people with prediabetes. The study treated some of the participants with medication and some with healthy lifestyle counseling. The results? As reported in Time Magazine, ” …those who changed their diet and exercise habits lost more weight and had a lower rate of developing diabetes than those who took the glucose-controlling medication metformin.” This is not to say you should avoid medication! But your best treatment combines doctor-prescribed medication and natural health boosters like a healthy diet and exercise.

Another example of the importance of nutrition is the use of medical nutrition therapy for wound healing. We can put the best dressing on a wound, but it will still take much longer to heal if we are malnourished or dehydrated. This is a fact recognized by the authoritative National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPAUP), which states: “it is essential to address nutrition in every individual with pressure ulcers.”

In the course of treatment for any medical condition from the mild to the severe, we tend to underestimate the powerful impact of the food & drink we consume and how it affects our health. Good nutrition is a powerful addition to any treatment plan, and should be made a priority by anyone who desires health improvement.

How much does medical nutritional therapy cost?

Medical nutrition therapy is covered under Medicare for certain conditions. It is also covered under certain other insurances as prescribed by a physician. Some insurance companies choose to cover the services of Registered Dietitians, because a healthy diet plays a big part in preventing the development of health conditions. After all, preventing a disease might cost less for providers than trying to treat a disease that has developed.

Why doesn’t my doctor discuss nutrition with me?

Many doctors do not receive many hours of nutrition training during medical school. Fewer than thirty percent of medical schools provide the minimum 25 hours of nutrition teaching that is recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. Nutrition is its own detailed field of study, and doctors who are not well-trained on the subject will often leave nutrition advice to a registered dietitian. See more statistics on doctors and nutrition training in the following infographic from The Washington Post. 

medical nutrition therapy

Don’t forget to exercise!

Regular exercise, in conjunction with a healthy diet, has a powerful impact in preventing health conditions. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity.

People who follow these guidelines for exercise have lower rates of:

– mortality

– coronary heart disease

– high blood pressure

– stroke

– type 2 diabetes

– metabolic syndrome

– colon and breast cancer

– depression

When it comes to exercise, anything is better than nothing – start small and work your way up! And always consult with a doctor before beginning any fitness program.

RELATED: Short-term Therapy Nutrition Therapy for Wound Healing

Shield Healthcare Dietitians

Shield HealthCare has Registered Dietitians available to help you:

  • Coordinate directly with the multidisciplinary healthcare team to meet nutrition goals
  • Close the gap in nutrition care between the hospital and home
  • Translate nutrition evidence into expert patient care
  • Help keep patients healthy in the home
  • And more!

Meet Your Shield HealthCare Registered Dietitians!

More Helpful Resources

Medical Nutrition Therapy & Cancer:


University of Wisconsin Health

Recent Nutrition

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