March is National Nutrition Month, which is an annual observance focused on the significance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating habits.[i] Although adopting a balanced diet is important for everyone, it is especially essential for people with dysphagia, which affects the ability to bite, chew, and swallow food.
Malnutrition occurs when a person’s diet does not provide enough nutrients or the right balance of nutrients for optimal health.[ii] Causes include inappropriate dietary choices, difficulty obtaining food, and various physical conditions, including dysphagia.[iii]
Dysphagia can lead to malnutrition for a variety of reasons. First, patients with dysphagia often require their foods and liquids to be thickened before consumption. Although thickened foods and liquids are often safer and easier to swallow, some have lower energy densities, meaning that patients on texture modified diets may require more frequent, energy-dense meals and snacks. The loss of independence in eating is also associated with reduced energy intake, as eating may be slower, use of cutlery may be limited, and patients may feel embarrassed dining in front of others or experience a fear of choking. Additionally, changes in the appearance, texture, and taste of thickened foods can lead to a loss of appetite and food avoidance.[iv]
To ensure proper nutrition in patients with dysphagia, consider the following strategies:
- Consulting with a speech-language pathologist, dietitian, or healthcare professional trained in treating swallowing disorders can be critical for finding foods that are safe and nutritious while also aesthetically pleasing and appetizing. They can help you design the most permissive yet safe modified dysphagia diet of soft, minced or moist, puréed, or liquefied food.[v]
- Providing patients with meals that look and taste natural can increase consumption and prevent malnutrition. Thick-It® Purées offer those with dysphagia a variety of delicious options for entrées, side dishes, and desserts—including Beef Lasagna Purée, Carrot and Pea Purée, and Caramel Flavored Apple Pie Purée—that are precisely crafted to meet the guidelines for a texture modified diet while also offering satisfying flavor and nutrition.
- For those consuming Level 7 – Regular Easy to Chew Foods, instill a sense of independence by providing patients with adaptive eating tools like plates with large rims, cups with lids and wide bases, and non-slip placemats. If a patient has difficulty using cutlery, serve bite-sized finger foods that are easy to pick up, such as chicken nuggets, fish sticks, cheese sticks, orange segments, carrot sticks, or steamed broccoli.[vi]
- Serve food when patients are most alert and attentive. Some might eat better if they are provided with smaller dishes throughout the day, which can be less daunting than three large meals.
- Make mealtime more pleasurable by engaging all of a patient’s senses during food preparation. Before cooking, bring ingredients, such as vegetables and fruits, to the patient so they can see and smell them, and use seasonal ingredients to make iconic dishes of summer, fall, winter, and spring.[vii]
To find Thick-It® products, including purées and food and beverage thickeners, near you, check our product locator.