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4 Ways to Add Healthy Calories to a Dysphagia Diet for Swallowing Problems

swallowing problems

When seniors have swallowing problems (dysphagia), the special diets they have to follow can cause unhealthy weight loss and malnutrition. To keep your older adult healthy, Jess McLean shares 4 easy and tasty foods that boost the amount of healthy calories and nutrients in a dysphagia diet.

Is your older adult struggling to maintain a healthy weight after starting a special diet because of swallowing problems (dysphagia)?

Swallowing problems associated with diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis can cause weight loss and nutritional deficiency.

Some studies estimate that malnutrition affects more than 35% of adults over age 65.

Not getting enough calories, vitamins, and minerals could make your older adult more vulnerable to colds and flu, increase their risk for bed sores, and affect their overall mood and energy levels.

It can be challenging to learn how to modify the foods and beverages your older adult can safely swallow and make sure they’re getting enough healthy calories and nutrients.

And it might seem like the only way to get extra calories is through fried or processed foods or sugary processed drinks like Ensure.

But there are many simple ways to add healthy fats and nutrients into a dysphagia diet.

These 4 dysphagia staple foods help seniors maintain a healthy weight and feel more energized.


1. Avocado

1 cup of cubed avocado has about 22 grams of fat. Plus, it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods. Avocado is loaded with potassium, fiber, Vitamin B-6, and Vitamin C – just to name a few.

Even better, avocados don’t have a strong flavor on their own so they can easily be mixed into existing dysphagia meals to add a smooth, creamy thickness.

Consider blending an avocado in with chocolate pudding, a fruit smoothie, or even a creamed soup like broccoli cheddar.

2. Nut butters

In addition to peanut butter, nut butters like cashew, hazelnut (like Nutella), and almond are becoming more and more common in grocery stores.

They’re delicious and packed with health-boosting vitamins and minerals like protein, calcium, fiber and fat.

For creamier textures that won’t leave your older adult’s meal gritty, you might want to stick with smooth nut butters from peanuts, cashews, and hazelnuts.

When buying pre-made nut butters, watch out for brands high in added sugar, especially if your older adult is managing a chronic condition like diabetes.

Nut butters can play a flavorful role in dishes like smoothies made with berries (think PB+J), milkshakes with bananas, and Asian-inspired curries and soups.

3. Greek yogurt

True full-fat Greek yogurt could be a great addition to your older adult’s regular diet. It adds fat, protein, and helpful probiotics that support a healthy gut.

But you do need to be careful about choosing the right Greek yogurt among the hundreds of selections available at the grocery store.

Beware of yogurts labeled “Greek-style.” That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true Greek yogurt. When in doubt, read the label.

Do you see 3 to 5 live active cultures listed in the ingredients? Does it limit added sugar content?

Looking for these essentials helps you find a nutritious Greek yogurt that will benefit your older adult’s health.

Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is tangy, rich, and creamy. It blends well with both sweet and savory dishes so go ahead and add it to smoothies, savory soups, and desserts!


4. Coconut oil, cream, and milk

Coconut oil is one of the few foods out there with medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are known for helping cells in the body quickly convert calories to energy.

Plus, coconut oil is very high in saturated fats – 1 tablespoon has 60% of the daily recommended amount.

That’s why it’s great for people who aren’t getting enough fat, but isn’t good for people with conditions like heart disease or high cholesterol.

Consider adding a little bit of cold-pressed coconut oil to your older adult’s thickened coffee or morning smoothie. Or simply cook with it when preparing their meals.

Coconut cream and coconut milk are also high in fat and can be incorporated in many dishes including soups, stews, curries, smoothies, and desserts (like coconut whipped cream).

They can usually be found in the Asian foods section of the grocery store.

Always check with the doctor first

Before making significant changes to your older adult’s diet, it’s important to first speak with your their doctor.

The doctor should review the changes in case there are certain foods that could make other health issues worse or cause digestive problems.

For example, your older adult may need to limit their saturated fat intake if they have heart disease.

Doctors might also be able to recommend helpful services like a dietician or nutritionist.

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Guest contributor: Jess McLean is a freelance writer (and avid home cook) based in Austin, TX. She served as a full-time caregiver for over 9 years for her Mom who had primary progressive multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. In her free time, she blogs about caregiving tips, ideas, and solutions at and volunteers at Mike’s Place, an adult day care program for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Image: Maisonella

This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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