Dysphagia is the technical name to describe swallowing issues, no matter how severe they are. There are many different causes of dysphagia, ranging from strokes to autoimmune diseases. Typically, dysphagia leaves you unable to eat and drink the overage foods properly, which is why modifications are needed.
Why is a Dysphagia Diet Important?
Dysphagia increases the likelihood of aspiration, which is the name given to foods entering the lungs. When food breaks down in the lungs, it can lead to pneumonia and additional medical conditions. Naturally, the types of food you eat will determine your swallowing ability – hard foods are more challenging to eat than soft foods.
Dysphagia diets can also help reduce aspiration in other medical problems, including:
- Mouth sores
- Sjogren syndrome (less saliva)
- Severe dental issues
- Parkinson’s disease (neurological conditions)
- Radiation therapy to treat throat cancer or during surgeries
The amount of time you’ll need to follow the diet will depend on the severity. Typically, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are responsible for determining risks and discussing the best course of action.
Dysphagia Diet Levels
To make sure diets are followed properly, The Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics compiled a tiered diet for dysphagia sufferers. At level 1, you will find pureed foods that require zero chewing: for example, pudding, soups, mashed potato, and yogurt. In some cases, you may need to use a pudding consistency thickener from SimplyThick to help with swallowing.
Level 2 still consists of moist foods, but they need just a little bit of chewing. Think vegetables, soft meats, peanut butter, scrambled eggs, and cottage cheese. If you’re in level 2, you should steer clear of dry foods including nuts and crackers.
Level 3 moves onto solid yet soft foods, which again require more chewing. This category includes mash, vegetables, fruit, and meats. Typically, you should stay away from extremely dry foods including chips, crackers, and nuts.
Level 4 encompasses all types of food and is often an indication that recovery is near.
Liquid and Food Preparation
Your dietitian will provide you with guidance on how to prep food, some of which will call for modification. For example, instead of serving solid foods, they may need to go through a food processor to turn them into liquids. Remember, before pureeing foods, add season to make the finished product more variable.
You will still need to get enough fluids, even if you’re pureeing foods. However, dysphagia can make it difficult to swallow certain liquids. In this case, you will need to use a thickening agent, which is often added as a powder.
During mealtimes, it’s recommended that you keep your back straight and sit upright – support pillows can help with this. Additionally, distractions like the TV should be kept to an absolute minimum, allowing you to focus on the meal. Once you’ve finished eating, remain upright for 30 minutes to reduce aspiration.
A dysphagia diet is designed to allow sufferers to get the nutrients they need without causing further medical issues. If you have dysphagia, get in touch with an SLP for a thorough assessment.