Dysphagia, difficulty swallowing, affects 15 million people in this country, and 1 in 25 experience it at some point in their lifetime. It can make addressing dietary needs difficult. Food thickening agents added to thin foods or liquids will alter their consistencies, making swallowing easier.
What are Food Thickeners?
Food thickening agents allow for more effortless food transfer by slowing down the rate a thin liquid moves, giving you more time to swallow. Thick liquids can also be easier to maneuver in the mouth since they are held together as one unit by the thickening agent. Thickening takes some of the burden off of the nerves and muscles that, when left to their own devices, must work harder to overcome swallowing difficulties.
Who Should Use Food Thickeners?
Food thickeners help anyone who has trouble swallowing. They are ideal for older adults who have lost some muscle control with age, causing difficulty when eating. Food thickening agents can also help those who contend with illnesses or disabilities that hinder their ability to swallow.
What are the Different Thickness Levels?
Food thickeners come in three general thickness levels:
- Nectar-level – The thinnest option is the nectar-level food thickener, which resembles the consistency found in eggnog or fruit nectar. This mild thickness is the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative level two.
- Honey-level – Honey-level thickness is the next option, providing a honey-like consistency to foods or liquids. This moderate thickness is level three.
The pudding-level food thickener alters foods and liquids to create a thick substance. This level often requires consuming the food or drink with a spoon and is level four.
How do You Use a Liquid Thickener or Food Thickener?
Before adopting food thickeners into the diet, you should first speak with a licensed professional about your dietary needs and restrictions. If food thickeners are recommended, the next step is to determine the appropriate thickness level for you. The thinnest possible liquid that can be swallowed is typically the goal, but you should follow the recommendations of your doctor.
Next, you will want to add the liquid or food thickening agent to the substance that needs thickening. If using a powder product, you will need to stir in the appropriate amount of powder following the package directions. Stop mixing as soon as the powder is absorbed to prevent over-thickening.
Most liquid food thickeners are either starch or gum-based and require their distinct preparations. When a starch thickener is added to a substance, the starch will continue to absorb the liquid even after you finish stirring and especially when refrigerated. Eat the food as soon as it reaches the desired thickness level and before it becomes too thick.
Unlike starch products, gum-based thickeners will retain the same consistency level over time. However, achieving the right thickness requires a vigorous shaking or blending to mix.
Things to Keep in Mind When Using Food Thickeners
Here are a few things to consider when using food thickeners:
- Familiarize yourself with the different thickness levels and determine the right option for the older adult in your care.
- Remember that thicker is not always better. Aim for the thinnest amount that can be safely swallowed. Medical swallowing tests can help determine the right consistency.
- Keep an eye out for foods with mixed consistencies, like soup or cereal that may need thickening.
Some people do not like the taste of thickened foods and may avoid eating or drinking as a result. In addition, thickened substances may make a person feel full after little intake. Make sure the older adult in your care is meeting their dietary needs.
Find the Right Food Thickening Agents
If you or a loved one needs help while swallowing, food thickeners may be a practical solution. To explore your options, Simply Medical provides a wide selection of food thickeners for older adults. With an array of products designed to meet specific needs, you should find the food thickening agent that is right for you.