Medical foods can be thought of as products that are between prescription drugs and dietary supplements. Medical foods are derived from food products but are specially formulated to address the nutritional issues related to specific medical conditions. These conditions cannot be managed through dietary and lifestyle changes alone. The ingredients are foods, approved food additives, or dietary ingredients that are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must comply with general food safety and manufacturing standards and regulations. Medical foods are different than dietary supplements primarily because they are intended for people with medical conditions rather than for healthy people. Medical foods are required to be used under medical supervision.

Medical foods do not require a prescription, and nonprescription products are generally more accessible and affordable to patients.