Medical News Today: What are the soft food and mechanical soft food diets?

The soft food diet is one that includes foods that are easy to chew and swallow and excludes foods with a hard texture. With careful planning, it is still possible to eat a tasty, balanced diet from a variety of soft foods.

The mechanical soft food diet is another name for the diet, and refers to using equipment, such as blenders or food processors, to make food into a smooth puree.

In this article, we take a look at the foods to include and those to avoid when following a soft food diet.

When should someone follow this diet?

Stir fried tofu in a bowl which is part of the soft food diet
The soft food diet, which includes tofu, may help people who have dental problems or are recovering from surgery.

There are many situations where people are advised to follow a soft food diet:

Following surgery

Doctors may recommend that people who have had surgery to the mouth, head, neck, or stomach follow a soft food diet for a period following surgery.

Examples of surgery that may require a person to eat a soft food diet afterward include gastrectomy, where a surgeon removes all or part of the stomach, and bariatric surgery, which is an operation to reduce someone’s weight.

Cancer treatment

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can make the digestive tract sore and inflamed, a condition known as mucositis. If someone is experiencing mucositis, they might benefit from a soft food diet.

Difficulty swallowing

The soft food diet may be appropriate for people who find it difficult to chew or swallow. This condition is called dysphagia.

For people with significant dysphagia, who are unable to eat tough foods safely, a doctor or dietitian might prescribe a texture-modified diet. In this diet, users alter the texture of foods to reduce the need to chew. They may achieve this by mashing and pureeing foods.

A texture-modified diet is similar to the soft food diet, and a doctor or dietitian may recommend it to people who may be at risk of getting food stuck in the throat or windpipe.

Doctors will assess people with dysphagia and will make appropriate dietary recommendations depending on individual needs.

The range of foods and textures offered depends on the severity of the dysphagia. Individuals should discuss options with a doctor or other professional, such as a speech and language therapist who specializes in helping people who have difficulty swallowing.

Dental problems

A soft food diet may be appropriate following dental implant or tooth extraction, such as wisdom tooth removal.

Following a procedure, it is essential to follow dietary recommendations from the dentist to avoid infections and other dental problems.

Dentures are removable replacements for missing teeth. They can become loose or ill-fitting over time, which makes it difficult to bite and chew properly. Hard or sharp foods can dislodge the dentures, causing them to become unstable in the mouth.

The soft food diet might be more suitable for adults with dentures as it prevents food getting stuck and causing any damage.


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Foods to eat

avocado on a table which is part of the soft food diet
Avocados are part of the soft food diet.

The soft food diet does not have to be restrictive. It is crucial to continue to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods, especially if recovering from surgery.

People following a soft food diet should try to eat regular meals including a variety of foods from the main food groups:

Carbohydrates to provide energy and fiber

  • porridge oats
  • whole grain biscuits with lots of milk
  • mashed potatoes
  • white or brown bread
  • boiled pasta or rice with sauce

Protein-rich foods for growth and repair

  • minced meats cooked in stews or casseroles
  • fish without bones that are poached, steamed, or boiled
  • tinned fish, such as tuna or salmon without bones
  • eggs that are scrambled, poached, boiled, and fried
  • beans, lentils, and pulses, including baked beans
  • hummus
  • tofu

Dairy and alternatives that contain calcium

  • milk and milkshakes
  • yogurt
  • crème fraiche
  • cheese sauce
  • cottage cheese

Fruit and vegetables for vitamins, minerals, and fiber

  • peeled, cooked, and mashed vegetables, such as carrots, butternut squash, and parsnips
  • ripe, soft fruits, such as bananas, pears, and berries
  • stewed fruit or compote
  • fruit juice and smoothies
  • avocado
  • tinned fruit in juice, mashed if necessary

People should be sure to remove the skins from all vegetable and fruit before eating.

Sauces

Followers of the soft food diet can use sauces to help soften foods. Options include:

  • gravy
  • cheese sauce
  • parsley sauce
  • white sauce
  • stock

Desserts

  • custard
  • milk puddings, such as rice pudding
  • mousse
  • ice cream or sorbet

Foods to avoid

As a rule, it is best to avoid chewy, crunchy, and dry foods when following a soft food diet.

People should take care with the following:

Carbohydrates

  • muesli or granola with nuts and dried fruit
  • jacket potato skin
  • crusts on bread
  • granary or sourdough bread
  • toast or crackers

Protein

  • chewy, fatty meat
  • tough or overcooked meat
  • cured meat, such as salami or chorizo
  • fish with bones
  • nuts, seeds, and peanut butter

Fruit and vegetables

  • raw vegetables
  • fruit skin, seeds, and pips
  • dried fruit
  • stringy or fibrous vegetables, such as celery or pineapple
  • foods that contain dried fruits and nuts, such as fruit cake
  • corn on the cob

Other foods to avoid

  • flapjacks
  • popcorn
  • chewy sweets, such as toffee
  • crisps


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Food preparation tips

Butternut squash cut into pieces as part of the soft food diet
People can also try cutting food into small pieces and cooking them until they are soft.

Foods can be mashed, pureed, or covered in sauce to make them moist and easier to eat.

Here are some other preparation ideas for the soft food diet:

  • cut food into small pieces
  • cook all foods until they are soft
  • mash with a potato masher or fork
  • use a food processor or blender to puree foods
  • use a sieve to remove lumps from soups or stews
  • add stock when cooking food to moisten and make it easier to swallow
  • add milk, cream, or cheese to sauces for the same reason
  • serve foods with a sauce
  • cook omelets or scrambled eggs with milk or butter
  • ensure meat is thoroughly cooked

Some recipes and meals work well as part of a soft food diet, such as:

  • guacamole or mashed avocado
  • dahl curry
  • soups
  • stews and casseroles
  • tuna and mayonnaise
  • cauliflower and cheese

Nutritional tips and additional considerations

A soft or mechanical diet might take a bit of getting used to, but it can be a healthful diet to follow. There are a few other things and tips to consider for people on a soft food diet, however:

Loss of appetite

For those with less of an appetite, consider smaller meals and regular snacks. Try not to rush meals.

Eating nutritious snacks between meals is fine. Nutritional supplement drinks can be useful if it is proving difficult to chew even with a soft food diet.

If problems persist, people should contact a doctor, specialist nurse, or dietitian for further advice.

Fortified drinks

If someone is struggling to maintain a healthy weight or experiencing difficulty eating a soft food diet, it might be useful to consider nutrient-rich drinks alongside meals.

Cream or full-fat milk can be used to make drinks and milkshakes for extra calories and fat.

Food variety

People should be sure to include a variety of foods in their diet. Doing so will prevent them getting bored of the same foods and meals while ensuring that they are consuming a wide range of nutrients.


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Conclusion

Both the soft food diet and mechanical diet can include foods from all food groups. A diet such as this requires careful planning and consideration to ensure that it is balanced to suit individual needs, however.

It is best for people to seek advice from a doctor or dietitian when beginning a soft food diet.

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