Dietary Supplements vs Medical Foods and Nutraceuticals

Discover the difference between dietary supplements, medical foods and nutraceuticals.

In this blog post we’ll analyse:

  1. Why Nutraceuticals go beyond Dietary Supplements.
  2. What is the difference between nutraceutical and functional (medical) foods?
  3. What are examples of nutraceuticals?

Why Nutraceuticals go beyond Dietary Supplements.

Medical foods and nutraceuticals are different from supplements because nutraceuticals are uniquely formulated to provide more benefits. Nutraceuticals and dietary supplements are both products that are taken to supplement the diet, but they have some key differences.

Nutraceuticals are food products that have additional health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value. They can be natural or holistic alternatives to traditional medicine. Examples of nutraceuticals include fortified fibers,  enhanced collagen powder, and prebiotic/ probiotic capsules. Nutraceuticals are not regulated by the FDA, but they must be safe for consumption and have some scientific evidence to support their health claims.

Dietary supplements, on the other hand, are products that contain one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, or amino acids. They are intended to supplement the diet and are available in various forms such as capsules, tablets, and powders. Dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA, and manufacturers must provide evidence that their products are safe and effective before they can be marketed.

Medical foods and nutraceuticals are specially formulated and used in functional and regenerative medicine specifically as a form of dietary management of a disease or condition that has distinctive nutritional needs that cannot be met by a normal diet alone. Medical foods combined with nutraceuticals are much more than just a “shake” or an OTC supplement routinely purchased from Amazon or a health food store. Medical food is formulated to deliver targeted nutrition for the nutritional management of a single, specific condition diagnosed by a trained functional medicine physician.

Dietary supplements can be purchased over the counter by just about anyone. However, the law stipulates that medical foods and nutraceuticals must be used under the ongoing supervision of a healthcare practitioner. This is because patients who use medical foods have health conditions that require medical management to ensure that the right amount of medical food / nutraceuticals are administered and adjusted as needed by a trained medical professional.

Additionally, ingredients found within a medical food must be GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) while ingredients for dietary supplements are often not tested and have a very different set of standards. Dietary supplements over the counter (OTC) are not well regulated and most are not tested for purity of ingredients, contaminants, absorption/bioavailability, and stability of product.

What is the difference between nutraceutical and functional (medical) foods?

Nutraceuticals and functional foods are similar in that they both offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. However, there are some key differences between them.

Nutraceuticals are food products that have been fortified with additional nutrients or bioactive compounds to provide specific health benefits as explained previously. They are often used as dietary supplements and can take various forms such as pills, capsules, or powders. Nutraceuticals may contain ingredients such as antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, or plant extracts, and are typically consumed in concentrated doses.

Capsules of nutraceuticals for health and wellness

Functional foods, on the other hand, are whole foods that naturally contain bioactive compounds that provide specific health benefits. These foods are consumed as part of a regular diet and are often labelled as “superfoods.” Examples of functional foods include blueberries, salmon, and dark chocolate. These foods contain compounds such as omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, and antioxidants that provide health benefits when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

What are examples of nutraceuticals?

There are many examples of nutraceuticals, as they can come in many forms and contain a variety of active ingredients. Here are a few examples:

  1. Probiotics: Live microorganisms that are beneficial to gut health and are often found in fermented foods like yogurt or taken in supplement form.
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fish oil supplements and certain types of fish, these fatty acids are believed to improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and support brain function.
  3. Plant sterols: Found in fortified foods such as margarine and orange juice, these compounds are believed to help reduce cholesterol levels.
  4. Curcumin: A compound found in turmeric that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. Glucosamine: Often used to support joint health, this compound is found in supplements derived from shellfish.
  6. Vitamin D: This essential nutrient is found in some foods like fatty fish and fortified dairy products, but is often taken as a supplement to support bone health and immune function.
  7. Prebiotics.  Certain fibers such as inulin, and other extracts from pomegranates and citrus attract and allow certain beneficial bacteria to grow. This promotes a healthy gut ecosystem.


Vitamins and minerals in dietary supplements

These are just a few examples of nutraceuticals, and there are many other active ingredients and products that fall under this category.

The Real Gut Doctor approved brand of medical foods and nutraceuticals offered at our practice are PHARMACEUTICAL GRADE and cGMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified, which means that the ingredients are tested for purity prior to production; the products are tested after production to ensure that what is on the label is indeed in the product; the products go through an additional step of quality assurance where the nutraceutical is exposed to high heat and highly pressurized environment to simulate a 2 year shelf life to ensure that the product is 100% stable on the shelf through its expiration date printed on the bottle.

Only pharmaceutical-grade products undergo these stringent quality control measures to ensure that there are no contaminants, fillers, or counterfeit materials in these GMP-certified medical foods and nutraceutical products manufactured using pharmaceutical-grade equipment and stringent guidelines.

Dietary supplements are intended to provide nutritional support for people already in good health. Medical foods and nutraceuticals are formulated for dietary management of an existing disease/medical condition as diagnosed by your functional and regenerative medicine physician. Dietary supplements are designed to supplement the diet with one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins and minerals, amino acids, botanicals, herbs, or enzymes. While dietary supplements may be taken without medical supervision (although it’s a good idea to take any supplement upon the recommendation and guidance of a nutraceutical expert). Medical foods and nutraceuticals are unique combinations of nutritional ingredients to support the management of a specific medical condition.

If you have a health condition that requires dietary management, or you are currently taking prescription medications for various conditions and would like to know if you can either lower your dosage or transition to a drug free treatment option, give us a call so we can thoroughly evaluate your current treatment protocol with you.

Ask us if you could benefit from using a medical food or nutraceutical. We specialize in treating all medical conditions with drug-free options, especially for those who are unable to tolerate their medications due to side effects or polypharmacy.  Often times, patients develop a tolerance to long-term use of certain prescriptions as well, requiring higher dosage and thus experience increased side effects that make continuing impossible. We also offer opioid-free options for chronic pain management.

All medical foods and nutraceuticals offered at our practice have been thoroughly screened by Dr. Frances Mark, Pharm.D., who obtained her Doctorate degree in Clinical Pharmacy at the University of California at San Francisco / U.C.S.F. with over 2 decades of clinical experience.  For more information on functional medicine or to schedule your visit, contact us by calling or requesting your appointment online today.Author
Jeffrey Mark, M.D. Dr. Frances Mark, Pharm.D.


Jeffrey Mark, 5x board certified MD

Jeffrey Mark, M.D.

Helping clients with compassionate and comprehensive medical care for over 25 years with 5 board certifications in functional medicine, gastroenterology, internal medicine, anti-aging/ regenerative medicine, and obesity medicine. IFMCP, ABIM Gastroenterology, NPAS Internal Medicine, ABAARM, ABOM.