Dysphagia is a widespread health concern within the UK. It is a secondary condition often affecting stroke survivors and those with dementia, head and neck cancers as well as many other conditions. Dysphagia can mean that mealtimes become a struggle – as not only is eating a slow process but it can also be a scary one. The risk of choking or aspiration is high and can lead to frequent chest infections and pneumonia. To counter these issues patients with dysphagia will often require a texture modified diet.

People with dysphagia are also frequently at risk of malnutrition, studies have shown some 48% of sufferers are malnourished[i]. Eating a well-balanced diet that meets a patient’s nutritional needs can often lead to improved recovery times and better quality of life.

Eating with the eyes

For many dysphagia patients, it isn’t just the physical side effects of their condition that can be debilitating. Eating home-blended texture-modified food that one is not accustomed to can, despite best efforts, often be unappealing and discourage patients from eating full meals. If a meal is not visually appealing this can fail to trigger salivation, making swallowing even more difficult. This effect can be worsened for patients suffering from dementia, as they may struggle to recognise a puréed meal as food.

The challenges of home puréeing – density of nutrition

Often patients with dysphagia struggle to get the calories and nutrition they need. Individuals frequently turn to home pureeing in order to ensure meals are safe and easy to eat, which can be a daunting prospect. They often add water to aid the blending process, which can dilute the nutritional content and result in patients needing to eat a higher volume of food to achieve the same nutritional intake at a time when they are more likely to have a reduced appetite. Each bite they do take needs to be packed with as much protein, calories, vitamins and minerals as possible. Serving larger portions with fewer calories per bite does little to improve mealtimes for dysphagia patients, as the meal may appear more intimidating and is unlikely to be finished.

Overcoming reduced appetites – Purée Petite

There are alternatives to home pureeing that may be better suited for some patients and carers. For example, Wiltshire Farm Foods recently added a selection of Level 4 meals called Purée Petite to the Queen’s Award winning Softer Foods range of texture modified meals. Purée Petite offers smaller, more manageable meals that are energy dense to help ensure patients meet their nutritional and calorific needs despite a smaller appetite. Each 275g serving provides at least 500 calories and 15-22g of protein. They are also shaped to give enhanced visual appeal, encouraging patients to eat.

Healthcare professionals should consider all options when it comes to providing the best diet for their dysphagia patients, and always be aware of the potential challenges of home-blended meals. By making sure we are aware of these issues related to a texture-modified diet, we can ensure our patients are eating well, making the best recovery possible and enjoying a high quality of life.

Wiltshire Farm Foods provides frozen texture modified meals covering Levels 4, 5 and 6 that are easy to cook and are prepared by our chefs with taste and texture in mind. All meals safely meet the National Dysphagia Diet Food Texture Descriptors and are full of flavour allowing mealtimes to become enjoyable once again.

[i] Felt P. Nutritional Management of Dysphagia in the Healthcare Setting. Healthcare Caterer. 2006; Spring 2006