What is the Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding

The main difference between enteral and parenteral feeding is that enteral feeding is the delivery of food via the human gastrointestinal tract. In contrast, parenteral feeding is the delivery of food into the bloodstream, bypassing the gut. That is; the enteral feeding involves the esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines, but the parenteral feeding involves the central or peripheral vein. More specifically, the routes of enteral feeding include oral, sublingual, and rectal, while the main route of parenteral feeding is the intravenous route. 

Enteral and parental feeding are two delivery methods of artificial food to provide nutrition for patients with eating or digesting problems. Generally, these artificial formulations provide the correct balance of sugars, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. 

Key Areas Covered 

1. What is Enteral Feeding
     – Definition, Methods, Importance
2. What is Parenteral Feeding
     – Definition, Methods, Importance
3. What are the Similarities Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms 

Enteral Feeding, Gastrointestinal Tract, Intravenous, Parenteral Feeding Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding - Comparison Summary

What is Enteral Feeding 

Enteral feeding is the delivery of artificial nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, to the organs. In this procedure, the oral routes are important.

If a patient cannot take nutrients through the mouth but requires additional energy to recover, then  the nutrients have to be delivered through a tube into the gastrointestinal tract. For example, feeding tubes are important for the patients who have strokes or neurological conditions with impaired swallowing and blockages of the gullet or stomach. 

Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding

Figure 1: Feeding Tube

Considering the advantages of enteral feeding; it is a cheaper and simpler method with fewer complications. Also, it increases the efficiency of absorbing nutrients. In addition to these, this method maintains the mucosal barrier of the gastrointestinal tract, preventing bacterial translocations. However, some of the complications of the process include sinusitis, intolerance such as vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea, etc.  

What is Parenteral Feeding 

Parenteral feeding is the other method of delivering artificial nutrients bypassing the gut. Typically, it uses central or peripheral veins for the intravenous delivery of nutrients with the use of a catheter. That is; this method delivers nutrients into the bloodstream.

Parenteral feeding is important for patients with blockage or a large part of the gut been removed (short bowel syndrome) or when the gut fails to work (functional short bowel).

Enteral vs Parenteral Feeding

Figure 2: Needle Insertion Angle

Looking at the pros and cons; parenteral feeding is somewhat a complex process, but has no delay in caloric intake. However, it shows many complications, including hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, catheter relates sepsis, occlusion, insertion, etc. 

Similarities Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding  

  • Enteral and parenteral feeding are two methods of delivering artificial nutrition to patients with eating and digestion problems.  
  • Importantly, these artificial formulations provide the correct balance of sugars, proteins, fats,  vitamins, and minerals. 

Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding 


Enteral feeding refers to any method of feeding using the gastrointestinal tract to deliver part or all of a person’s caloric requirements. On the pther hand, parenteral feeding refers to the method of getting nutrition into the body through veins. 

Delivery Routes 

The routes of enteral feeding include oral, sublingual, and rectal, while the main route of parenteral feeding is intravenous routes. 


Enteral feeding uses the esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines, but parenteral feeding either uses a central or peripheral vein. 


Enteral feeding uses a feeding tube, while parenteral feeding uses a catheter. 


Enteral feeding is more physiological, simpler, cheaper and less complicated, but parenteral feeding is a less physiological, complex, comparatively expensive, and a more complicated process. 

Relying on the Gastric/Intestinal Function 

Enteral feeding depends on the gastric/intestinal function, but the parenteral feeding does not depend on the gastric/intestinal function. 


Enteral feeding has fewer complications, but parenteral feeding has more complications. 


Enteral feeding is the method of delivering nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract via a feeding tube. It is given to patients with eating and digesting problems. In this method, the main routes of delivery include oral, sublingual, and rectal. And, the organs involved in this method of feeding are the esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines. Parenteral feeding, on the other hand, is the other method of delivering nutrients to patients. In this method, nutrients are supplied intravenously into the veins using a catheter. Although parenteral feeding is a more complicated process with more complications, it is important for feeding patients when their gut does not absorb nutrients. Finally, in conclusion, the main difference between enteral and parenteral feeding is the method of feeding and importance.  


1. Fletcher, James. “Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition.” BAPEN: the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, Available Here.
2. Nickson, Chris. “Enteral Nutrition vs Parenteral Nutrition • LITFL • CCC Nutrition.” Life in the Fast Lane • LITFL • Medical Blog, 16 Apr. 2019, Available Here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Diagram showing the position of a percutaneous jejunostomy feeding tube CRUK 342” De Cancer Research UK – Original email from CRUK (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia    
2. “Needle-insertion-angles-1” By British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). (CC BY 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia  

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things. She has a keen interest in writing articles regarding science.

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