Special Diets: Everything You Need to Know

Special Diets: Everything You Need to Know

According to Hippocrates (the father of medicine), “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” The statement still rings true. According to many medical institutions, including the World Health Organization, a diet meal plan with good nutrition is an essential part of maintaining a healthy weight or BMI, preventing the occurrence of diseases, and promoting optimal health. But, what exactly is good nutrition and how do we get it?

Good nutrition means that your body is getting all the nutrients (including vitamins and minerals) that it needs to function properly.

Keeping this in mind, you will realize that good nutrition changes depending on some factors like age and health conditions.

For instance, a toddler’s nutritional needs are different from those of an adolescent’s. Likewise, people who suffer from a health condition (such as acid reflux) may need to avoid certain foods.

What is Good Nutrition?

Once you have established your goals or medical needs, you will be able to determine the kind of nutrition your body requires. Remember that this step is best done with help from your doctor or dietitian. Together, the two of you can decide on the best dietary regimen that is well-suited for your needs.

For people who do not have a health condition that requires dietary modifications, a balanced diet meal plan will often be enough. However, in the presence of an illness that can be managed or made worse by food, the doctor may suggest a special diet.

In essence, a special diet is one that “controls” your intake of food depending on your medical needs. It’s usually incorporated as a part of the treatment regimen for your existing health condition.

For Better Digestion

Many doctors recommend special diets for people who are suffering from digestive conditions. And it is not surprising. After all, our digestive system processes the food that we consume.

These are the guidelines to promote digestive health:

Eat food rich in fiber. Adequate fiber intake helps “clean” the digestive system by encouraging the passage of stool. Two special diets for digestion that have high fiber content are raw food and plant-based diets. Fiber is also an essential part of the special diet meal plan for constipation.

Eat food that is gentle to the digestive tract. To help you recover from a health condition, the doctor may ask you to follow a diet meal plan that is gentle to the digestive tract. For example, the BRAT diet is great for people with diarrhea because it soothes the tummy and makes stool firmer. For those who underwent surgery, the doctor may suggest a soft diet.

Drink plenty of water. This helps dissolve the food we eat and also encourages the passage of stool.

Avoid food that worsens your condition. Finally, some diets aim to avoid “triggers” that make your symptoms worse. Examples of conditions that may encourage you to stay away from certain foods are bloating, ulcers, and GERD.

Heart Healthy Eats

Now that more people are becoming more concerned about their heart health, special diets that improve our heart functions are rising in popularity.

Generally, the following guidelines are common among special diets for heart health:

Focus on “fresh” foods. To keep your heart healthy, try to eat more fruits and vegetables. Additionally, choose whole grains instead of processed carbs (white rice, bread, etc.) Foods that are high in preservatives should also be limited as they contain a lot of sodium.

Add more heart-protecting foods. Aside from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, a diet meal plan with foods that protect the heart is also recommended. These foods include oily fish (for their omega-3 fatty acids), fiber, tea, garlic, and plant-sterols.

Limit unhealthy fats. Special diets for heart health often have fewer servings of meat, poultry, and dairy. Instead, fats come from healthy sources like unsalted nuts and seeds.

Two special diets that take care of our heart are the Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet for hypertension. Some variations combine these two regimens.

Preventing and Managing Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that makes it hard for us to use sugar as energy–either we cannot produce the hormone insulin or we cannot utilize it properly. Because the problem is related to sugar, it only follows that we can use diet and nutrition to manage diabetes:

Add Variety to Your Food. Being diabetic doesn’t mean that you need to cut some of the food groups out of your diet meal plan. To manage or help prevent diabetes, you still need to have fruits and veggies, whole grains, protein sources, and dairy in your diet.

Cut Back on Unhealthy Choices. Avoid saturated and trans fats. Furthermore, stay away from foods high in salt and limit intake of sugar-loaded foods such as cakes, candies, and sodas.

Count Your Carbs. This means you need to keep track of the carbohydrates in your foods and drinks daily. You can do this by checking the labels for the grams of carbs the food or drink contains.

Some of the most common special diets to manage diabetes are:

Weight Loss for Ideal BMI

While there are special diets to lose weight, please keep in mind that your main goal is to be healthy. After all, maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of developing some of the most serious illnesses like cardiovascular diseases. This means that losing weight is just a good side-effect to being healthy.

One common rule among special diets for weight loss is “calorie-counting.” According to experts, you may lose weight by consuming less calories than you burn. However, there are considerations to this rule. One in particular is the type of calorie you’re cutting back on. Come to think of it, cutting back 150 calories from cake is not the same as removing 150 calories from whole grains. At the end of the day, the type of food still matters.

Each special diet meal plan for weight loss has different guidelines, but to briefly explain, here are some examples:

Ketogenic Diet. This diet asks you to eat high amounts of good fat. At the same time, you can only consume small amounts of carbs to encourage your body to reach the state of ketosis. When you’re in ketosis, your body effectively burns fats, causing you to lose weight.

Atkins Diet. Is one type of low-carb diet. Typically, in this diet, you can have as much fat and protein as you want.

Apple Cider Diet. This diet involves drinking small amounts of apple cider vinegar to lose weight.

Intermittent Fasting. One popular diet regimen right now is intermittent fasting or IF. The premise is for you to “cycle” between time windows of eating regularly and fasting. In some types of IF, what you eat doesn’t matter as much as when you eat them.

OMAD. One Meal A Day is an extreme form of dieting to lose weight. From the name itself, OMAD urges you to eat just one meal for the entire day.

To accommodate various preferences and needs, some people combine one special diet with another. For example, you can choose to do intermittent fasting while you’re in a low-carb diet.

Other Special Diets

Aside from heart and digestive health, and diabetes and weight management, there are also special diets for other health problems:

Key Takeaway

A special diet meal plan is formulated with a certain goal; hence deciding should not be taken lightly. Talking to your doctor is a priority, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated 2 weeks ago