Numerous advances in diabetes management and medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for individuals with diabetes make this an exciting time. Historically, a challenge to proving the benefit of MNT has been the lack of clinical and behavioral research. In recent years, however, evidence-based outcomes research that documents the clinical effectiveness of MNT in diabetes has been reported.
The term “medical nutrition therapy” was introduced in 1994 by the American Dietetic Association to better articulate the nutrition therapy process. It is defined as the use of specific nutrition services to treat an illness, injury, or condition and involves two phases: 1) assessment of the nutritional status of the client and 2) treatment, which includes nutrition therapy, counseling, and the use of specialized nutrition supplements (1). MNT for diabetes incorporates a process that, when implemented correctly, includes: 1) an assessment of the patient’s nutrition and diabetes self-management knowledge and skills; 2) identification and negotiation of individually designed nutrition goals; 3) nutrition intervention involving a careful match of both a meal-planning approach and educational materials to the patient’s needs, with flexibility in mind to have the plan be implemented by the patient; and 4) evaluation of outcomes and ongoing monitoring. These four steps are necessary to assist patients in acquiring and maintaining the knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors, and commitment to successfully meet the challenges of daily diabetes self-management (2).
The primary purpose of this article is to review the evidence for the effectiveness of MNT in diabetes, both as an independent variable and in combination with other components of diabetes self-management training (DSMT). In addition, the recent studies that have demonstrated the effectiveness of lifestyle intervention, which included MNT, in preventing type 2 diabetes will be highlighted. Evidence from several studies that supports the cost-effectiveness of MNT in diabetes will also be presented.