Six tips on how to optimize your nutritional intake when experiencing a swallowing difficulty

Aug 9, 2022 | Blog

What happens when you experience a medical illness that results in difficulty chewing or swallowing? How will you eat? How will you get your nutrition?

Dysphagia or swallowing difficulties can occur for a variety of reasons. The consequences of dysphagia can include malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia, recurrent hospitalization, and social isolation. This may sound overwhelming. We have compiled six tips to help you enjoy your meals safely.

Tip 1; Proper meal consistency.

The first way to manage swallowing difficulty is to discuss your concerns and difficulty eating with your physician. An assessment with a speech pathologist may be recommended. After a full assessment with a speech pathologist, a diet consistency change may be needed.  Diet consistency changes may be referred to as mechanically altered diets or pureed diets.

A pureed diet is a texture modified diet that provides foods that are blenderized, pressed, or strained to a soft, smooth, non-sticky, consistency such as pudding or mashed potatoes. These foods do not require chewing and are usually eaten with a spoon. The International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative is a great resource for further explanation and handouts.

Tip 2; Make your plate look appetizing.

Our appetite and desire to eat begins by utilizing our senses like smell and sight. The look of foods can have a huge impact on how much you eat. Making the food look appetizing can be challenging with modified consistencies. Chef2home provides pureed meals at the correct consistency, but formed into visually appealing shapes that you recognize. Thus, finding meals appetizing by looking normal. For example: our pureed chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Serve this meal on a plate to feel more like a home cooked meal.

Tip 3; Designate a place to eat.

Eating at the table every day helps to cue your hunger hormones that you will be eating. This will help you feel hungry and thus eat more.

Tip 4: Keep your kitchen and table clutter free.

Research shows that when your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. Chewing and swallowing difficulty can take more focus and energy to eat. Having a calm environment will allow you to focus on eating, which will help you get the important nutrition to maintain your health.

Tip 5: Decrease distractions during meal time.

Turning the TV off during meal time can also have a positive and calming impact on the environment. For the same reasons as decreasing clutter, having a nice and inviting meal time can increase nutritional intake.

Tip 6; Ensure adequate lighting.

Due to normal visual changes, as we age, we need more light. Ensure adequate lighting especially in your kitchen and dining area. An intervention study published in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare May 2, 2019, suggests that improved light can improve overall quality of life and promote healthy aging at home.

Challenges such as chewing and swallowing don’t have to negatively impact your nutritional status. Follow these tips and as always discuss any concerns with your support network and physician.