What are Therapeutic Foods?

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Therapeutic foods are prepared foods that contain calories, vitamins and minerals. They do not require cooking and have a long shelf life. Learn how ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) are being used to fight childhood malnutrition.

Therapeutic Foods

You likely think about food in different ways. Sometimes you might look at it as a way to fuel your body, so you have enough energy to make it through your day. At other times, you may see food as a fun complement to a party or family gathering. But did you ever think of food as therapy? Therapeutic foods are prepared foods that provide calories and nutrients in easily-accessible packaging.

Therapeutic foods can be used to supplement the diet of certain populations with special nutritional requirements, such as the elderly. However, these high-energy foods are mainly used to treat malnourished children living in areas were nutrient-rich foods are limited or unavailable. In this lesson, we will discuss the usefulness of therapeutic foods in the fight against childhood malnutrition.


Malnutrition is a major concern in many developing countries. It is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of many children living in these impoverished areas. There are many factors that contribute to childhood malnutrition. For example, in different parts of the world there may be limited access to nutritionally-dense foods. Diseases and infections are also common in these areas. These illnesses cause symptoms, such as diarrhea, fatigue and weakness, that make it even more challenging for individuals to meet their nutritional needs.


A child benefiting from RUTF.
Child with RUTF

Ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) are a type of therapeutic food that is making a difference in the fight against malnutrition. RUTF provides calories in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The food source also contains sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals to treat malnutrition in young children. Even though RUTF may be the only source of food a severely malnourished child receives, the product contains enough energy and nutritional value to ensure steady weight gain.

RUTFs have many practical advantages that make them useful in remote settings where malnutrition is often a serious concern. For example, they are provided as a ready-to-eat lipid-based paste, which allows them to be consumed without needing to be cooked or mixed with water. Because the product can be consumed directly from the package, the risk of bacterial contamination is reduced, making it a safe food source that can be given to a child in a medical setting or at home.

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