Medical nutrition during treatment and on the road to recovery

Medical nutrition can have life-changing and life-saving benefits, yet many people remain unaware of the important role it can play when their health is challenged. This article explains more about what it is, who it is for and how it can help at key moments throughout life, during treatment and on the road to recovery.

The power of nutrition

A balanced diet provides all the key nutrients that support our everyday health and wellbeing. Our digestive system breaks down the food we eat into nutrients, such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, that we need to keep us healthy, active and strong.

There is strong and increasing evidence, showing that nutrition can impact both short- and long-term health outcomes. Research has shown how the right nutrition at the right time can make a positive difference to our health and help live life to its fullest.

Medical nutrition during treatment and on the road to recovery

Optimal growth and development in childhood are essential for long-term health and well-being. Nutritional screening and growth monitoring are important tools to identify any health conditions and ensure children receive the appropriate nutritional therapy.1

Throughout life, illness can lead to decreased food intake and/or increased nutritional requirements,2 potentially resulting in Disease Related Malnutrition (DRM). DRM may lead to weight loss and especially muscle mass loss, reducing physical function (e.g. body strength and walking speed),3,4 and quality of life.5 One example is cancer that can affect people at any stage in life. It is likely that a cancer patient will experience undesirable weight loss at some point during their illness.6 Ensuring cancer patients get the nutrition they need to achieve and/or maintain the right body weight has been shown to improve treatment outcomes.7

As we get older, extra medical attention, including taking medical nutrition, can help older adults stay independent for as long as possible.8,9

More detailed examples of how medical nutrition can benefit patients can be found below.

What is medical nutrition

Medical nutrition is an effective way to help address nutritional insufficiencies, when patients are unable to meet their daily nutritional requirements with normal foods.

Used under medical supervision, medical nutrition is often a key part of treatment besides medication, surgery and/or diet and lifestyle. Medical nutrition can be either a short term or long-term solution, related to individual nutritional needs.

Who is medical nutrition for and why?

Illness can affect in many ways our ability to take in the nutrition we need. Loss of appetite, changes in taste or an inability to swallow are just a few examples that patients experience.10-12 Moreover, illness can lead to increased nutritional requirements.2

Medical nutrition can help patients of all ages address nutritional insufficiencies, including:

  • from a condition or disease (for example epilepsy, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease)
  • due to a genetic metabolic disorder or allergy in which case an essential nutrient is not tolerated or metabolized (for example cow’s milk allergy or PKU, an inherited metabolic disorder)
  • due to the inability to eat or swallow (dysphagia or for example in ICU)
  • from conditions of aging, such as weight loss, declining muscle mass (‘sarcopenia’) and frailty (reduced body strength)
Illustrative example of the types and quantities of food required on a daily basis, on top of the regular diet, to support the brain of people living with early Alzheimer’s disease
When should medical nutrition be considered?


Throughout life our nutritional needs are constantly changing and at certain times it can become difficult to obtain enough of the nutrients we need through regular diet alone. At these critical times doctors, dieticians or other healthcare professionals may prescribe or recommend medical nutrition.


Science-based and outcomes-focussed medical nutrition is backed by many years of clinical research studying the role of medical nutrition and our health. Medical nutrition is safe to take and used by millions of people around the world.

Different types of medical nutrition

Also often referred to as clinical nutrition (CN), medical diet (MD) or a food for special medical purposes (FSMP), medical nutrition is available as:

  • oral nutritional supplements (ONS);
  • enteral tube feeds (for administration straight into the gastrointestinal tract);
  • parenteral nutrition (for intravenous use).

Oral Nutritional Supplements (ONS) are typically used to supplement food intake that is insufficient to meet the nutritional requirements. ONS are designed to be consumed orally and can be liquid, semi-solid (e.g. pudding or crème) or in powder format. Taste and format are important considerations as compliance is key to ensuring nutritional needs are met. ONS can be effective solutions in many diseases and their treatment, including cancer, stroke, neurological and gastrointestinal conditions, and surgery. Many ONS are nutritionally complete and in some situations are used as a sole source of nutrition.13

Enteral Tube Feeding (ETF) is administered into the gastrointestinal tract through a tube, going directly to the stomach or small intestine. ETF is required when a patient is unable to consume sufficient nutrition via the oral route. Examples include severe cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, after a stroke or major surgery, such as head and neck surgery, and critical illness.13

Parenteral Nutrition (PN) - also known as ‘intravenous feeding’ - is a method of getting nutrition directly into the blood circulation, bypassing the gastrointestinal tract and is delivered directly into a vein. Example indications include gastrointestinal failure which can occur after surgery or in critically ill patients, short bowel syndrome, intestinal obstruction and premature infants.13

The Nutricia medical nutrition portfolio focuses on Oral Nutritional Supplements and Enteral Tube Feeding.

How do I know if medical nutrition is right for me?

Medical nutrition should be used under medical supervision. If you’ve had a recent diagnosis or are just interested in finding out if it could be right for you or a loved one, speak to your doctor, dietician, nurse or pharmacist.

About medical nutrition

Food for Special Medical Purposes (FSMP) - or medical nutrition products – are foods which support the dietary management of a specific disease, disorder or medical condition. These products are:

  • designed to meet nutritional or dietary needs arising from a wide range of medical conditions that affect patients of all ages
  • for the dietary management of patients who suffer from a disease, disorder or medical condition which either temporarily or permanently affects their ability to achieve a suitable nutritional intake through normal foods.
  • developed based on scientific and clinical evidence, often in close collaboration with scientists and Healthcare Professionals (HCPs). They are supported by sound medical and scientific data which may include national, international or professional guidelines.
  • used on the recommendation and under the supervision of an HCP. This necessary and continued HCP supervision clearly distinguishes FSMPs or medical nutrition from other food types. They are consumed at home and across all healthcare settings – in hospitals, care homes, clinics.

  1. Moreno Villares JM. Nutr Hosp. 2016 Jul 12;33(Suppl 4):337. 
  2. Stratton RJ et al. Wallingford: CABI Publishing; 2003.
  3. Medical Nutrition Industry: www.
  4. Abellan van Kan, G. J Nutr Health Aging, 2009;13(8):708-12.
  5. Elia M & Russell C. Redditch, BAPEN. 2009
  6. Marin Caro MM, Laviano A, Pichard C. Nutritional intervention and quality of life in adult oncology patients. ClinNutr. 2007;26(3):289-301
  7. Martin L, et al. J Clin Oncol, 2015:33(1):90-9.
  8. Verlaan S et al. Clinical Nutrition 2015; : 1-8.
  9. Ter Borg S et al. JAMDA, 2016;17:393e401.
  10.  Spotten et al. Ann Oncol, 2017;28: 969–84.
  11.  Brisbois et al. J Pain Symptom Man, 2011;41(4): 673-83.
  12.  Martino R, et al. Stroke 2005;36 2756-634, April 2011, 673-683.
  13.  Adapted from the Medical Nutrition Industry fact sheet

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