• Jasmine Blake Hollywood, MS, HHP

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy?

Medical Nutrition Therapy

In functional nutrition, nutritional diagnostics, therapies, and counseling services are conducted for the purpose of disease management. These services are completed by a registered dietitian (RD) or a nutrition professional called a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). An RD can hold a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree and a CNS can only hold a master's or doctoral degree. Both of these professionals can be licensed in their state of residence and the license identification terminology is Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN).

What is MNT?

Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) is a specific application of a process we call the Nutrition Care Process. It provides a focus of the management of diseases in clinical settings. MNT involves in-depth individualized nutrition assessment, nutritional therapy, and nutritional counseling. Throughout a person's recovery or management of a disease state, a LDN will be there to guide them through. Thy purpose of this therapy to help the client successfully manage their disease or condition. In other words, for medical conditions already diagnosed by a physician, nutrition support and management of the medical diagnosis (e.g. thyroid disease, heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, or immune health) can be provided by a LDN. When using MNT, this therapy can help someone learn the lifestyle and dietary strategies they need to help manage lifestyle challenges.


Medical Nutrition Therapy is accomplished through a Functional and Integrative Approach!

A DCN is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and an MD is a Doctor of Medicine. Both types of doctors receive rigorous coursework about the biological processes of the human body. 

  • A doctor of medicine can use pharmaceuticals and other means to cure or treat diseases or injuries.

  • A doctor of clinical nutrition will use food and lifestyle practices to manage disease states during this recovery.

Doctors of medicine use practical and conventional methods, while doctors of clinical nutrition use nutritional and alternative methods. Together both doctors can collaborate to oversee a person overcome their health battles. This collaboration is called and the Functional and Integrative Approach.  Functional nutrition focuses on the whole person and not one part of the body like in conventional medicine. This helps medical doctors who have a particular scope of practice. Medical doctor's scope of practice will be that specific organ system (e.g. thyroid, internal medicine, or dermatology), while a nutritionist's scope of practice is solely about nutrients, we can look into all areas of the body to find imbalances of these nutrients. This is beneficial for both parties because where nutritionists lack in their scope of practice a physician can fill in (like prescribing medicine and diagnosing serious illnesses or injuries), and where physicians lack in their scope of practice a nutritionist can fill in (like seeing nutritional imbalances that could be exacerbating the condition).

Assessment and Practice

With an in-depth assessment and analysis of one's lifestyle, personality, mind and mental well being, diet, and health habits; a functional nutrition practitioner can nutritionally diagnose a client with either a nutritional deficiency or excess that has caused the body's biological processes to spiral out of control.  When clinical nutrition doctors or therapists identify and address underlying problems that could be associated with already diagnosed disease states, we use a referral from your physician.  Functional nutrition practitioners do not medically diagnose disease or injury. They also do not treat, cure, or prevent any illness, disease, or injury as a medical doctor does. Instead, they focus on using informed clinical evidence through the National Library of Medicine and other evidence-informed resources to achieve answers that teach people to manage these medical challenges. Our essential goal is to bring about optimal health and balance to biological processes through lifestyle change, food, and other dietary needs.

Ethical Considerations 

In functional nutrition, practitioners take ethical issues into consideration, the same as physicians. Clinical nutritionists consider the preference of the client and allow the client to have autonomy in their relationship. They also respect quality of life, and are sure to incorporate the basic principles area justified and fair professional visit. While trying to level with the client, the nutritionist aims to be like-minded and educate the client on the best practices possible.

Some ethical aspects these practitioners consider when practicing medical nutrition therapy are:

  • Identifying clinical problem

  • Gauging the extent of the issue

  • Creating goals for treatment

  • Assessing how can harm be avoided

  • Which are the best ways to inform and educate the client

  • Considering client preferences in, while balancing practitioner recommendations

  • Allowing room for the clients self-determination

  • Promoting quality of life and integrating beneficial elements of the treatment plan

  • Avoiding judgement

  • Understanding economical considerations and effective cost management to new lifestyle changes

Although things like religion and family traditions are notable, functional nutrition practitioners aim to work with these aspects and improve medical nutrition therapy. In addition, throughout medical nutrition therapy, clinical nutritionists rely on clinical research to avoid legal issues and make ethical decisions about the current therapy being used.

While both conventional practitioners and functional nutrition practitioners practice on different sides of the spectrum, their values still remain the same. Using both types of practitioners together only increases health potential of the client. Ultimately, conventional medicine can help identify disease states and get clients started on the path to health and medical nutrition therapy can help clients manage their conditions successfully with dietary and lifestyle changes.


  1. MNT Versus Nutrition Education. (Last revised 2006). Eat Right Pro: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from https://www.eatrightpro.org/payment/coding-and-billing/mnt-vs-nutrition-education

  2. Jonsen, A. R., Siegler, M. & Winslade, W. J. (2015). Clinical ethics: A practical approach to ethical decisions in clinical medicine, (8th Ed.).