Dietetic, as applied to a food, refers to a food or foods developed to meet the needs of a special diet, as required by a person with a certain medical condition. These are developed by registered dietitians for specific persons that they are working with. The term dietetic might also be applied to an entire diet plan. Such foods or diets may be low in fat, sugar, or calories.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Dietetic foods are developed to meat the needs of cancer, HIV, kidney disease, genetic intolerance to certain nutrients, etc. Recommended nutrient intakes apply to healthy people, not those with specific conditions or diseases.
When the plural is used, as in dietetics, it refers to the science that deals with the adequacy of diets and the modification of diets during diseased conditions. This is also called clinical nutrition and the two terms are interchangeable.
Dietetic Meal Plans are Like Prescriptions
Dietetic is not a fancy word for “healthy foods.” Do not assume that a dietetic food is more nutritious than regular food. This is no more the case than someone else’s prescription being the right medicine for your condition. It may also be easy to confuse the term dietetic foods with diabetic foods. Dietetics encompasses dietary interventions for those with diabetes, but not all dietetic meal plans would be appropriate for a diabetic.
It may well be that a person with a certain illness or condition may have a sensitivity to an excess of certain nutrients and a heightened need for others. Therefore, dietetic foods may not always represent balanced nutrition for a healthy individual. Many of today’s dietary fads come from what would be accurately termed dietetic interventions and which are only appropriate or needed for certain individuals and may be too restrictive if stringent guidelines are not followed.
Example of a Dietetic Intervention
An example would be a FODMAP diet (avoidance of Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols) being recommended for everyone. Such a diet, used to control the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and related or underlying conditions for some patients, would restrict fructose (fruits, honey, HFCS), lactose (from dairy, see lactose intolerance), fructans (from wheat, garlic, onion, etc.), galactans (from beans, lentils, soybeans, etc.), polyols (sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, isomalt, etc. and many stone fruits like apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, etc.). So, as you can see many foods are restricted, including many healthy foods!