Senior Nutrition Tips

If you have difficulty swallowing, or are recovering from oral, neck, or gastrointestinal surgery, try these easy-to-go-down sources of protein, carbs, and fats.

Q: My 92-year-old grandmother is recovering from a few different infections and has developed difficulty swallowing. She used to be a meat-and-veggie eater, but now she can eat only soft foods without choking. What are some soft food options?

—Patty B., Augusta, GA

A: The soft food diet is one that includes foods that are easy to chew, swallow, and digest. The need to eat soft or puréed foods is common in the elderly, many of whom develop dysphagia (difficulty chewing or swallowing). This diet is also good for people recovering from oral surgery or surgery to the head, neck, or stomach.

We may not think about it, but swallowing is a surprisingly complex function that involves more than 30 nerves and muscles. Dysphagia can lead to malnutrition and dehydration. It can also increases the risk of choking or developing aspiration pneumonia, an infection that can develop when food goes down the “wrong way” and enters the lungs.

Dysphagia can occur at any age, but seniors are at an increased risk because of normal aging, illnesses, and medications that affect the body’s swallowing mechanism. Estimates suggest that 15–22 percent of people over age 50 have dysphagia. For those in assisted living facilities, the prevalence is even higher: up to 60 percent have feeding difficulties.

Sauces used to help thin out foods are an important part of the soft food diet. Opt for a simple butter and olive oil sauce, or go all-out with cream sauces, pasta sauces, hollandaise, or bone broth gravy.

How to Tell If You Have Dysphagia

The first step in treatment is to make a proper diagnosis. Symptoms linked to dysphagia include choking when eating, coughing when swallowing, recurrent heartburn, a sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest, and regurgitation.

There are several possible dysphagia causes, including stroke, dementia, esophageal disorders, multiple sclerosis, Myasthenia gravis, Parkinson’s disease, and radiation therapy to the neck and head area. Certain medications, such antibiotics, can increase the risk of esophageal infections, leading to swallowing problems. In some patients, no cause is found.

A critical part of treatment is starting on a specialized diet that addresses the body’s basic nutritional needs. Here are some easy-to-swallow foods to try:

Soft Sources of Protein

Protein is the most important nutrient for healing from illness and repairing tissues after surgery. But it is the hardest for people on soft food diets to get in a form they can safely eat.

Minced or Ground Meat

Try small bits of ground or finely minced meat or poultry in a moist form with coconut oil, olive oil, or a sauce. If this type of meat is too hard to swallow, purée it with broth and/or oil to make it softer.


Eggs often work better than meats for many people because they are naturally softer. Good options include minced soft or medium poached eggs, soft scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil or butter, and puréed soft scrambled eggs with cheese.


As a source of protein for vegetarians, or for variety in the diet, try mashed beans, such as refried beans thinned with vegetable broth. Other options include dips such as hummus or Mexican-style bean dips.

Bone broth

Bone broth is a healing food that’s a rich source of easy-to-digest protein and other nutrients; however, it can be too thin for people with swallowing problems. Try blending it with starchy veggies such as carrots or potatoes. Or whisk tapioca flour into melted butter, then slowly whisk in bone broth to make a gravy.

Protein powder

A wide range of powders can be used to fortify shakes, smoothies, or other foods with extra protein. Try PaleoProPaleo Protein Powder made from beef protein concentrate and egg protein; collagen-based protein powders, such as Primal KitchenCollagen Fuel; hemp protein powders, such as Nutiva Organic Hemp Seed Protein; bone broth protein powders, such as Ancient NutritionBone Broth Protein; or pea-based protein powders, such as NOWOrganic Pea Protein. Experiment and decide which ones you like best.

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December 6, 2019

Do you need a soft food diet?

If you have difficulty swallowing, or are recovering from oral, neck, or gastrointestinal surgery, try these easy-to-go-down sources of protein, carbs, and fats. MELISSA DIANE SMITH, […]