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Older woman shown having a meal with her family
July 13, 2022
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Nutrition Tips for Older Adults with Chewing Difficulties

Chewing and swallowing can be difficult for older adults for a number of reasons including tooth decay, side effects from medication or cancer treatment, weakness following a stroke, decreased saliva with age and other health conditions. These challenges can increase a person’s choking risk, cause nutrient deficiencies and weight loss which can impact overall health and quality of life.

Changes in the ability to chew does not mean one needs to give up delicious and nutritious food. It may require adjusting the foods that you chose and how they are prepared to help you or a loved one eat and live well. If you or someone you are caring for are experiencing chewing difficulties, here are some tips that may be helpful.

Easy-to-Chew Food Choices

Older adults may face short-term challenges with chewing after a surgery or specific treatment, while others may have to make permanent changes to the way that they eat. Luckily, there are many nourishing foods that are naturally soft and moist, require little to no preparation and can be easily incorporated into everyday eating. Some ideas include:

  • Oatmeal – Loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from damage. All oats, including instant options, are gluten-free, whole-grains and a good source of protein.
  • Applesauce – Contains antioxidants, vitamin C and fibre.
  • Bananas – Particularly high in the mineral potassium which supports heart health.
  • Berries – Includes antioxidants with anti-inflammatory benefits and a good source of fibre.
  • Avocado – Full of nutrients, minerals and heart-healthy fats and arguably taste best smashed up in guacamole.
  • Cottage cheese – High in protein and available in reduced or sodium-free options.
  • Yogurt – Offers calcium, protein and probiotics to support immunity, digestion and heart-health.
  • Cooked Beans and Tofu – Packed with protein, fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
  • Eggs – A great source of protein, heart-healthy unsaturated fats and important nutrients like vitamin D and other B vitamins; also can be prepared in multiple ways.

Food-Softening Tips

 There are many tricks to make the food that you or the person in your care enjoy softer and easier to chew. These modifications can also increase a dishes’ caloric value, which is beneficial if chewing difficulties are accompanied by weight loss, changes in muscle mass or bone density.

  • Drink water with every meal and soften food with tea, milk, salad dressing, broth, sauces and pureed vegetables.
  • Chop or shred meat, poultry and fish and shred raw vegetables with a grater or peeler to reduce choking risk.
  • Steam, roast or mash vegetables, removing peels for improved texture. Add milk, cream and/or butter before mashing.
  • Serve meat with gravy and vegetables with cheese sauce to further soften and increase caloric value.
  • Use a blender or food processor to purée dishes the rest of the family are eating or to make smoothies with frozen fruit and greens.
  • Canned and frozen vegetables are fast and easy options for soft, cooked vegetables—just watch for added salt.
  • Soups are a great way to incorporate more vegetables and meat safely. Serve with bread or crackers softened in the soup.

Always speak to a doctor before making changes to an older adult’s diet. There may be specific recommendations if you or a loved one have a chronic health condition like diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease.

A registered dietitian at VHA Home HealthCare can also provide more meal ideas and a speech language pathologist can assess swallowing issues. Contact the private services team at (416) 489-2500 ext. 4649 or by email at privateservices@vha.ca for more information.