A therapeutic diet, or healing diet protocol, is a meal plan that controls the intake of certain foods or nutrients/compounds in foods. It is often followed as part of the treatment of a medical condition, and is most times done temporarily to heal and/or to prevent health conditions. The most common therapeutic diet protocols used today follow a similar approach as their foundation: to start with whole, unprocessed foods as the base. From there, the inclusions and exclusions vary from diet to diet, but always with this as their core principle while also staying away from pre-packaged foods that have long ingredient lists. The key component to remember is that no matter which therapeutic diet is being followed, it should always be monitored by a healthcare professional who can ensure that the nutritional needs are still being met through the course of the diet protocol.
The most simple of the therapeutic diets is a Basic Elimination Diet. When following this protocol, the exclusions are simple and few: gluten, dairy, and refined sugar. The reasoning behind these three eliminations is that they are the three most common sources of food sensitivities and inflammation in the body. By simply removing these three top offenders, most people tend to see relief from symptoms associated with inflammation, as well as gut, cardiovascular, and immune health, within a matter of weeks. When removing gluten, dairy, and refined sugar from the diet, it’s important to focus on replacing these foods with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, gluten-free whole grains (if you can digest them), organic sources of protein (from a variety of animal and plant sources), and healthy sources of fat. It is also possible to enjoy minimal to moderate amounts of unrefined sweeteners such as raw honey, grade A maple syrup, molasses, and fresh/dried fruits, although not in excess.
Beyond the Basic Elimination Diet, there are many other in-depth therapeutic diet protocols that include further food restrictions based on specific symptoms, conditions and diseases. These include Paleo, Auto-Immune Paleo, Low FODMAP, Ketogenic, Vegetarian, Vegan, SIBO Specific Diet, GAPS Diet, and Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The goal to keep in mind with any therapeutic diet protocol is that it should be followed with health status closely monitored until the symptoms subside, followed by a period of reintroduction for each of the foods that were eliminated, one at a time. In general, therapeutic diets are not meant to be followed permanently, unless certain foods that are eliminated are determined to be an allergen, sensitivity, or source of negative symptoms. Otherwise, the elimination period should only be done temporarily to give the body time to heal and be brought back into homeostasis, with a treatment plan in place to reintroduce each of the safe foods back that were removed. The exception to this is refined sugar, simple carbohydrate foods, and packaged foods that contain artificial ingredients. In general, these food types should still be kept out of the diet after other foods are reintroduced, simply because they do not contain nutrient benefits that whole foods offer and will further perpetuate inflammation in the body.
Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on each of these therapeutic diets! I'll be sure to share information on what foods each diet includes and excludes, as well as why people might want to follow each diet and for how long it should be followed.