When my swallow was starting to decline, I went through a range of foods that I could manage and thought it might help to share. This is all based on my experience which seems to have been quite different to most people. I had trouble swallowing anything thicker than water, drinks with sugar in and bitty foods. I also can’t eat dairy and don’t eat meat which did make this a bit harder…
Almost everything in this world is about reducing your calories but if you’re having swallowing problems you’re probably going to need to focus on increasing calories. Avoid diet and low fat foods. Think about maximising the calories in what you can eat. It’ll probably require a mental adjustment, particularly if you’re a woman who’s been socialised to aim for weight loss.
The key thing I struggled with was keeping up my calorie intake but I also struggled with lack of flavour and lack of salt and I found very little advice that was relevant to me. Hence this post. Hopefully some of what I have learnt will help others.
For some people with swallowing difficulties, thin drinks can be more of a problem than thick ones. This wasn’t the case for me. I also found drinks with sugar in to be worse for my swallow. However, in order to keep calories up it is definitely worth trying non diet coke etc and drinks like lucozade are another good idea. I started ‘watering’ them down with diet lemonade so that I would still get some of the benefit without so much sugar.
Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies are great, providing nutrition was well as energy. They come in a range of textures as well so it’s a good idea to play around with different types, different brands etc. I had to water these down as well and used water or lemonade to keep things a bit more interesting!
If you need to keep up your salt levels then a little bit added to your drink can help and, unless you’re heavy handed, you can’t taste it. Bovril and related drinks would also give you a shot of salt.
Hot chocolate, milky drinks and coffee are other ways of keeping up your food intake. If you can drink dairy there are lots of milk based drinks for boosting your intake. And whilst they won’t help with nutrition, herbal teas are good for managing any related nausea etc. Ginger is particularly good, I have lemon and ginger tea every day. Mint can be good as well and I prefer my mint tea to be mixed with a bit of green tea. Fruit and herbal teas can also bring more flavour into your life.
Not at all medical advice but I also managed to drink alcohol which does have calories in…!
This will be a trial and error journey for anyone experiencing swallowing difficulties. I needed food that melted into nothing in my mouth and wasn’t made up of, or chewed into, bits. Bread and similar textures aren’t possible for me and nor are rice and pasta.
Soups are most people’s go to with swallowing issues but I couldn’t manage any which had bits in or those which were thicker than water. I did just about manage a very thin, blended version of cullen skink. I increased the amount of fluids and decreased the amount of potatoes, don’t forget you can play around with recipes!
If you can do soup, try adding red lentils for a nutritional boost. There’s a couple of soup recipes in my chronic pain cookbook (free download). If you’re looking at shop brought soup, you can sieve out any lumps and you can blend them as well if you need to.
I made a variety of types of broth using coconut milk and adding herbs and spices to give it flavour. I had to water this down and could only manage a tiny amount but it was better than nothing. My favourite was a thai broth; add garlic puree, lemongrass puree, ginger puree and chilli powder to a pan, once warmed add your coconut milk, when it’s hot it’s ready to serve, just add a dash of fish sauce and lime juice. This also helped hit the spot when it came to salt cravings. Use full fat coconut milk or cream. Life hacker has an infographic which shows how to create different flavours using herbs and spices.
Homemade dairy free cauliflower cheese made with thin sauce and really small pieces of cauliflower worked for me for a while. I had to eat it very slowly with very small mouthfuls. I think for me, part of the swallowing problem is related to how much fluid (dissolved food and saliva) I have in my mouth. I had my cauliflower cheese very salty which also hit that craving.
I couldn’t manage jacket potatoes but they are worth a go and also try baked sweet potatoes as they tend to be a bit softer and silkier. Soft cheeses or houmous will add some extra nutrition and flavour. Garlic butter might be a good way to add more flavour.
I managed scrambled eggs for a while and I could also swallow grated boiled eggs (tip: boil very well). I was also able to swallow baby gnocchi (or normal gnocchi cut into small pieces) which come in different flavours and can be served in a flavoured oil. I also added a little bit of finely grated cheese which was easier to swallow once melted.
Yoghurts come in a wide range of textures and flavours, try a variety of them and see if any are suitable. If so, think about adding it to soups, smoothies and using it as a base for a sauce. Baby foods, fruit and veg purees might also be worth exploring.
Whilst you might have automatically ruled them out without trying (I did), some crisps are easier to eat than others. I can’t eat normal crisps but I can manage Cheetos (the spicy ones are dairy free) and similar. Think about puffed snacks and you’re on the right track. Purely for flavour, I have been sucking on crisps and spicy nuts then spitting them out. For me this is crucial for managing my need for salt and it also lets you taste different flavours.
A sweet tooth
Ice cream, ice pops and sorbets were great for swallowing, again in small mouthfuls, and will help anyone with a sweet tooth. Get a range of flavours and make your own so you’ve got a bountiful stash to raid.
Meringues melt in your mouth so they could be another nice sweet treat. And they give you a crispy, crunchy texture which is hard to find in easy swallowing diets.
Try different types of chocolate in different forms. Chocolate melts at body temperature so it can melt in your mouth. I managed dairy free white chocolate buttons provided I went slowly and focused on quality over quantity.
Mints and boiled sweets might be ok as well and you can stock up on different types to keep your tastebuds interested.
- Maxfacts have some really useful practical tips and things to think about when it comes to swallowing.
- Think about adding butter and cheese to savoury meals, add tofu to smoothies and soups etc
- Build more snacking time into your day!
- Play with taste, textures and temperature of foods as well as the time of day you eat them. Try dinner for breakfast and if it works, screw convention!
- Get a blender and experiment with pureed meals.
- Look in the baby aisle. It’s not just the baby food in tins that might help you, things like baby rice and baby pasta and baby crisps are all designed for little mouths which are still learning to swallow.