Articles and Information from GA Foods

Swallowing Difficulties: What You Need to Know

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on May 5, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Levinia Clark is the Manager of Nutrition Services at GA Foods.  This is a first of a series of articles about managing chronic diseases  with medical nutrition therapy. 

What is the swallowing process?

Swallowing is a complex process that involves more than 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves. Food is moved from the mouth to the stomach in three stages. In the first stage, food is prepared for swallowing as it is moved around the mouth by the tongue. The second stage begins when the tongue pushes food or liquid to the back of the mouth. The third stage begins when food or liquid enters the esophagus. 

What causes swallowing problems?

Some people are born with swallowing problems, but in many cases it develops as a result of a physical illness or medical condition. Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, can result from a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, other neurological disorders, or pain upon consuming regular foods following oral surgery. People with cancers of the head, neck, and mouth and/or cancer treatment may also have trouble swallowing. 



What are the risks with swallowing difficulties?

In the worst cases, difficulty in swallowing can result in aspiration pneumonia. This occurs when food enters the lungs instead of the esophagus, causing bacterial infection, pneumonia, and occasionally death. Left untreated, dysphagia can lead to malnutrition and dehydration, unintentional weight loss, and decreased quality of life. This can affect all age groups, but it is most often seen in the elderly population.

What is the purpose of a pureed diet?

A pureed food diet provides nutrition for individuals suffering from many different diseases and conditions, but is designed specifically for patients who have difficulty swallowing. Pureed food is described as a smooth, cohesive, pudding-like consistency. A pureed consistency makes it easier to form a bolus, or ball of food, in the mouth before swallowing. The cohesive, smooth texture of pureed foods keeps the bolus together throughout the entire swallowing process to prevent food particles from going into the lungs. Sometimes when a person has dysphagia, it is necessary to thicken liquids to make swallowing them easier. 

People with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, usually follow this type of diet to prevent choking or silent aspiration. The length of time a person uses a pureed diet varies depending on the cause. People recovering from a stroke often use the diet for a period of weeks to months, and those with worsening throat cancer or a progressive degenerative disease may need to use the diet for the remainder of their lives.

People have different nutritional needs depending on a variety of medical and nutritional factors. As with any therapeutic diet plan, consult your physician and dietitian to individualize any diet to meet those needs.

What foods are allowed in a pureed diet?

Few individual foods are excluded from this diet because most foods can be processed to a pureed consistency, however, foods that require chewing are excluded.  

GA Foods’ Pureed Menu Plan contains pureed meals for seniors and those with with dysphagia, designed with all foods including meats, vegetables and fruits to be the consistency of thickened pudding.  Our meals meet the National Dysphagia Diet guidelines.  For more information, click here.

Pureed Meals Brochure and Nutritionals

The above information is intended for an education aid only. It is not intended as medical/nutritional advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor before following any regimen to see if it safe and effective for you.

Topics: Chronic Disease Management, Dysphagia, Pureed

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