The phrase “soft food diet” may seem fairly self-explanatory, but there are some important considerations if you ever need to follow one.
Different circumstances can mean that different food types, textures and consistencies are more suitable for some people than others.
Let’s find out more about soft food diets, why you might need to follow one, and how you can do so safely.
What is a soft food diet?
A soft food diet is one that consists of foods that are soft and easy to consume (chew and swallow) and digest. The foods eaten as part of a soft food diet may be those that are naturally soft, or may include other foods that have been mashed, pureed, chopped, minced, blended or cooked until tender.
Why might you need to follow a soft food diet?
Typically, a soft food diet is recommended by a healthcare professional when someone is unable to tolerate food in the textures it’s normally served, or if they have difficulties swallowing or chewing.
There are many reasons why you might need to follow a soft food diet, and these can range from temporary needs that last just a few days or weeks, through to longer-term conditions.
The need to follow a softer diet may be short-lived, perhaps coming as the result of a short, non-serious illness, a medical procedure or injury. For example:
- Surgical procedures such as head, neck or stomach surgery
- Toothache that causes pain when chewing
- Dental procedures like a root canal or tooth extraction which may hamper your chewing ability
- Sore throat or tightening of the throat from illness
- Recovery from injury (particularly to the head, face, jaw or mouth)
In some situations, health conditions and illnesses can cause swallowing difficulties, collectively known as dysphagia. There are a wide range of conditions that can cause dysphagia, with some of the more common ones being:
- Neurological illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s Disease
- Cancers of the mouth, throat or oesophagus
You may also find swallowing a challenge if you have anxiety or a phobia of swallowing.
What can you eat if you need to follow a soft food diet?
If you need to follow a softer diet or it hurts to swallow, you may be wondering exactly what you can eat. The following are good starting points or ingredients to consider, as they generally require less chewing and swallowing effort than harder foods:
- Mashed potatoes
- Rice pudding or semolina
- Scrambled eggs
- Steamed or boiled soft vegetables
- Smooth nut butters and spreads
- Soft or spreadable cheeses
You can also use sauces such as gravy, ragú or curry sauces to soften meals and add moisture. Alternatively, you could prepare moister meals such as cottage pie, fish pie or lasagne.
Soft diet meals
Though the above are good starting points, it can be difficult to find inspiration for mealtimes if you are restricted to softer foods. It’s still important that you’re able to follow a healthy, balanced diet.
When cooking dishes with meat and vegetables, such as casseroles and stews, a slow cooker or crockpot can help to tenderise the ingredients, making them easier to mash down, chew and swallow.
In some cases, though, lumps and chunks of food can be problematic for people with dysphagia or swallowing issues. These people may be advised to follow a more closely controlled soft diet in line with the IDDSI (International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative) framework.
For convenience, Birds Eye Soft Meals are a great option, as they provide a nutritious and tasty meal that can be prepared quickly in the microwave. The meals adhere to IDDSI Level 7 (Easy to Chew), but can be modified to levels 4, 5 and 6 using a fork by following simple steps explained here:
- Modifying your meal to IDDSI Level 4
- Modifying your meal to IDDSI Level 5
- Modifying your meal to IDDSI Level 6
Our range of protein-enriched soups are also a good option for those with swallowing difficulties and who need to follow an IDDSI Level 4 (Pureed) diet.
Foods to avoid on a soft diet
Certain foods are not suitable when following a soft diet because they can be difficult to chew and/or swallow, which may cause discomfort or further issues. Here are some common foods and food types to avoid in such cases:
- Whole nuts
- Dried fruit
- Hard confectionary like boiled sweets and chewy toffee
- Crisps and crunchy snacks
- Dry, crunchy biscuits
- Chewy or fatty cuts of meat
- Fried fish or shellfish
- Hard cheeses
- Hard or al dente rice, pulses and grains
- Chewy or crusty breads
Seek advice in the first instance
If you develop swallowing or chewing difficulty as a result of surgery or a medical condition, it’s important to seek medical expertise before making changes to your diet. Soft food can differ in consistency to cater for different people depending on the severity of their swallowing or chewing difficulties.
A healthcare professional, such as a GP, dietician, district nurse or speech and language therapist (SLT), will be able to diagnose any problems and make safe recommendations to enable you to eat effectively and manage the issue.