A Beginner’s Guide to the Dysphagia Diet

A Beginner’s Guide to the Dysphagia Diet

From the outside, swallowing can seem pretty simple. You put food in, chew it up, then push it down. Three steps, done and done. Well, there’s one major problem with this view — the simplicity is an illusion.

The act of swallowing is a complex process that relies on the cooperation of 25 muscles and six nerves working together seamlessly to transport food and drink into our stomachs for digestion. Pretty incredible, right?

There are three distinct steps to swallowing — the mouth, throat, and esophagus. A problem can occur at any of these junctures to make it more difficult to get food down. If problems are persistent, this condition is classified as dysphagia, a medical term for swallowing difficulties.

(Psst! If you’re wondering about dysphagia’s pronunciation, try saying “dih-sfay-juh.”)

Medical Disclaimer: All content and material of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician. Always seek the medical advice of your speech-language pathologist and/or the official IDDSI website for your prescriptive plan. 

There are many different types of dysphagia — for example, those suffering from oropharyngeal dysphagia predominantly struggle with swallowing in the mouth and throat.

Many people experience some type of dysphagia at some point in their lives due to neurological, mechanical, or other issues. The experience can be frustrating, especially if one is new to swallowing troubles.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, as over 5% of the population experiences a long-term reduction in their ability to swallow at some point in their lives. This percentage is higher in those with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, head and neck cancer, and among children with developmental disorders.

Those with swallowing troubles should work with a speech-language pathologist to create a proper eating plan following the International Dysphagia Diet. This eating plan provides food recommendations to help people chew, swallow, and digest food at a consistency tailored to their needs.

After all, the appreciation of food can be one of the most unifying aspects of the human experience. Let’s explore how the guidelines proposed by the dysphagia diet can help us rediscover and deepen our love of eating. 

levels of the dysphagia dietLevels of the Dysphagia Diet

The International Dysphagia Diet is split into many levels with some overlap between foods and liquids. These items are ranked on their texture and consistency to provide the best diet for those living with dysphagia. 

Per the IDDSI, food and liquids are broken down into varying levels based on firmness and other features. Here’s a quick breakdown of the scale:

  • Dysphagia 0 Diet - Thin Liquids 
  • Dysphagia 1 Diet - Slightly Thick Liquids 
  • Dysphagia 2 Diet - Mildly Thick Liquids 
  • Dysphagia 3 Diet - Moderately Thick Liquids and Liquidized Food
  • Dysphagia 4 Diet - Extremely Thick Liquids and Puréed Food
  • Dysphagia 5 Diet - Minced and Moist Food
  • Dysphagia 6 Diet - Soft and Bite-Sized Food
  • Dysphagia 7 Diet - Easy to Chew and Regular Foods

The final category is transitional foods. Through the process of chewing, these foods transition from a solid (level 7) to minced moist (level 5). Some foods that fit into this category are puffs, wafers, and the easy to chew, easy to love EATbar

different textures of food

Posture, Positioning, and a Positive Environment

Before attempting any exercise at the gym, you should make sure that you know the proper form and technique. Well, the same rule applies to eating.

For those living with dysphagia, posture and positioning are incredibly important. Not only does the right body stance reduce the risk of aspiration, but it can make swallowing much safer. 

If you work with a speech-language pathologist, they might be able to help you find the perfect position for your specific needs using exams like a video swallow study. They also might have tips for creating a calming, positive eating environment.

Make sure that you have plenty of time not to feel rushed or stressed. Meals are an excellent opportunity to appreciate flavors and check in with yourself. Take your time, relax, and savor the moment.

If possible, put on your favorite music. This might be slow jazz or chest-thumping Metallica, whatever helps you feel most at home. Talk with a friend, read, write, or simply sit back and crack open a book you’ve been meaning to read. 

We should strive to make each meal an enjoyable one. Brainstorm different environments and pinpoint what makes you the most comfortable. If you’re able, do your best at mealtime to recreate the world you want to eat in, even if it’s something as small as listening to your favorite music.

Give Your Plate a Makeover

Your food deserves to look nice. After all, you’re putting it in your body. Why not dress it up?

In meal making, pay attention to plating and appearance. If eating solids, serve meat and vegetables separately. It’s important to savor each dish on its own, rather than letting discordant flavors clash and congeal.

If you’re making puréed food, opt for vibrant vegetables like broccoli, sweet potatoes, or carrots. Fruits and veggies come in every color of the rainbow, and a plate’s always more appetizing if it looks like it could be hung on an art gallery wall.

Of course, serve foods at the proper temperature. Mashed potatoes are positively scrumptious when piping hot from the oven but can taste a bit icky when plucked out of the refrigerator and spooned into a bowl. Refer to the 

If you’re not sure what level of the IDDSI diet a specific food falls under, no problem. Every food can be tested to determine its consistency level and whether that food is appropriate for you or your loved ones.

transitional foods chart

Transitional Foods

Beyond level four of the dysphagia diet, some speech pathologists may recommend transitional foods in therapy or as a safer alternative when individuals decline other diets. 

Transitional foods typically enter the mouth as a firm solid but change into a softer, more chewable texture when saliva seeps in. These foods are beneficial for re-introducing the mouth to more durable food textures without requiring excessive chewing or challenging swallowing mechanisms. 

One great transitional food option for those with dysphagia may be theEATBar. TheEATBar is a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth bar that comes in four unique flavors. Because of its coated meringue exterior, it starts with a solid crunchy texture and transitions to a minced, moist texture with saliva. 

The bars may be suitable for someone that consumes a level 7 to level 5 diet. Because each bar requires minimal chewing, it may help those with difficulty reconnect with solid foods and their love of eating.

Rekindling a Love of Food

Delicious food comes in all shapes and sizes. At its best, food doesn’t just bring us energy, but joy and memories too. That’s why we made theEATBar, infusing an irresistible melt-in-your-mouth meringue flavor to help rekindle a love of food in those with eating troubles.

Living with dysphagia certainly has its challenges, but it’s still possible to look forward to every meal and the bottom of every bowl. Listen to your doctor and therapists, lean on friends and family for support, and remember to seek out delicious transitional foods like theEATBar

To help you along your journey, use our discount code BLOG15 at checkout to get 15% off your order.