Natural Thickeners for a Dysphagia Diet

Dysphagia Recipes from Give a Care | Good Natural Thickeners

A good puree that’s the right consistency for your loved one with dysphagia isn’t always easy to come by. Whole ingredients including fruits, vegetables and grains don’t just magically blend into a smooth and delicious dish. I have found the most success naturally thickening dysphagia meals with the following:

Potatoes – A wonderful place to start is with the potassium-rich potato that also offers 70% of your daily value of Vitamin C per serving and 30% of your Vitamin B-6! Add boiled potatoes to thin soups and stews to thicken them out without adding too much flavor, or batch up mashed potatoes (or sweet potatoes) at the beginning of each week to have on hand for thickening savory foods as needed.

*Be careful! Potatoes can make food gummy really fast if you blend or beat them too much. Simply put, when boiled, the little starch cells in potatoes swell up, and when you mash/whip/beat them, all those starches get released. Blend them too much, and wham, you’ve got potato wallpaper paste. While your end result might be potatoes with a seemingly smooth consistency, the gummy pasty nature of them will be exhausting to eat for anyone who struggles with swallowing.

Avocado – A perfectly ripe avocado is a great source of heart healthy fat, fiber and more potassium than a banana – and it makes for a great thickener for a variety of meals. Because it’s flavor is so minimal and its volume substantial, it can blend well with salty or sweet dishes. Add a whole avocado to thicken a smoothie, greek yogurt dips, soups, and believe it or not pudding. Learn how to make delicious avocado chocolate pudding here.

*Don’t forget! Avocados brown fast and so the things you blend them with will too. Like in other fruits like apples, enzymes in avocados start to oxidize when exposed to the oxygen in our air. Good ways to make sure the meal you prepare doesn’t get brown on top is to eat it right away, or brush with lemon juice and seal tightly with cling wrap (actually press the cling wrap down onto the surface of the top of your food).

Tofu – Yep, tofu. Who’d a thought? This go-to meat alternative, also known as bean curd, is a protein-rich thickening agent that is essentially condensed soy milk. With lots of health-promoting properties and nutrients (like calcium and manganese), tofu comes in solid blocks typically 14 oz. Throw 1/3 or 1/2 of a block in soups, vegetable purees like cream spinach, and bean dishes to thicken and add protein.

*Note: Most soy beans to make tofu are grown in the US and a large portion are genetically modified. If you are concerned about GMO food intake, definitely opt for Certified Organic tofu.

Squash – The varietals of the squash plant are year-round choices for delicious whole food thickeners. Just 1 cup of butternut or acorn squash can offer loads of potassium and vitamin C, and like avocado, pairs well with a savory or sweet dish. Add a cup of roasted squash to a vanilla milkshake with banana, or to a fall inspired pumpkin soup. 

Greek Yogurt – The tangy, almost deliciously sour flavor of greek yogurt is a direct effect of the yogurt being strained to remove its whey, naturally giving it a thicker consistency. It’s high fat content also means it won’t curdle at higher temperatures. Add greek yogurt to cheesy soups, smoothies, dips and pureed desserts for that thick, creamy consistency you look for a in a good puree.

FYI, we’re talking about the real deal Greek yogurt here – full fat with lots of live active cultures. You can pretty much find greek yogurt in any grocery store these days, but loads of them will be selling low-fat, high sugar (or sugar substitute) options that don’t offer the probiotic benefits that real greek “strained” yogurt does. Keep this in mind when shopping!

Beans – Making soups or stews for your loved one with dysphagia? Throw in dried lentils, canned red or white beans for the last 15 to 20 minutes that your soup is cooking. This will thicken the soup significantly for blending, and add nutritional value including protein and fiber as well as potassium, folate, thiamin and iron (plus many more vitamins!). Due to their high fiber content, you do want to be careful of the amount of beans your loved one consumes as it can help move bowel movements along significantly!

Vegetables – Listing every vegetable seems like overkill, so here is a basic blending principle to live by: Vegetables naturally come with a ton of water in them – roast them, and much of it evaporates, steam them and they swell with moisture. Enough vegetables in your dish, and it’ll thicken just fine on its own so get to cookin! Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, kale and other dark leafy greens are a good place to start. Plus, all the health benefits from boosting the veggie intake will be noticeable in your loved one you’re caring for – mental clarity, regular bm’s, overall feeling and strength, and more.

Thanks for checking out these dysphagia hints and tips from Give a Care. What other natural and whole food thickeners have you tried with your loved one?

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