What is the Mechanical Soft Diet?

In This Article

bowl of oatmeal with honey
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The mechanical soft diet can be used if you are having trouble chewing and/or swallowing. Eating soft foods promotes healing and helps prevent choking or breathing in food particles or liquids (aspiration). 

"Mechanical” refers to kitchen implements like blenders, food processors, grinders, and knives which can be used to make food softer, smaller, and easier to eat. 

Benefits

A mechanical soft diet includes foods that are easy to chew and swallow. Your doctor may suggest the diet if you have a swallowing disorder (dysphagia), are experiencing a sore throat, head, and/or neck after receiving radiation therapy, or have dental pain from adjusting to dentures or braces

You may also need to be on a mechanical soft diet while recovering from an illness or surgery involving your digestive tract. In this case, your doctor may add other restrictions, such as limiting the amount of fiber you can eat per day.

The mechanical soft diet can also be used as a “bridge” to help you transition back to your regular diet after being on a liquid diet

How It Works

The main goal of the mechanical soft diet is avoiding foods that require a lot of chewing, such as tough meat, raw veggies, bread with a thick crust, nuts, seeds, and any hard or crunchy snacks.

Some foods, such as pudding, are already safe for a mechanical soft diet. Other foods, like vegetables, require a little more work. You can still eat most foods on a mechanical soft diet as long as they are made into a safe consistency.

Many foods you eat as part of your normal diet can be cooked, chopped, blended, ground, or shredded to make them mechanical soft diet-friendly. 

Your choice of food is limited by texture more than ingredients, so it’s possible to eat a well-balanced, varied, and flavorful diet—especially with help from the right tools.

Duration

A mechanical soft diet is usually only necessary for a short period of time, such as while you’re recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery. Your doctor may suggest a soft diet as a stepping stone to help you adjust from a liquid diet back to a normal diet. 

If a mechanical soft diet is necessary for longer—for example, if you have lost most of your teeth or have suffered a severe jaw injury—you will need to work closely with your health care team to ensure you stay nourished and hydrated.

You may also find it helpful to work with a registered dietician or nutritionist. They can guide you through the process of creating a nutritious meal plan.

What to Eat

If a particular food requires a lot of chewing, you can assume it's not allowed on a mechanical soft diet—at least, not in its current form.

Fruits, vegetables, and meat can be chopped up (smaller than 1/4 inch in size) and cooked until tender. Avoid any produce with seeds that aren’t easily removed, such berries. 

Soft bread is fine as long as it's not toasted. Crackers, cereals, and crunchy cookies can be softened with water or milk (slurried).

If you tolerate milk, many dairy products such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream are already smooth enough to swallow.

All liquids are allowed on a mechanical soft diet, assuming they do not contain nuts and seeds, tapioca pearls or boba, chunks of fruit, or pieces of candy. 

Compliant Foods

  • Cooked vegetables (mashed and skinned)

  • Canned fruit

  • Applesauce

  • Banana, berries, pears

  • Avocado

  • Cream of Wheat

  • Oatmeal

  • Cereal with milk

  • White bread, crackers (softened with milk)

  • Cooked white rice or pasta

  • Yogurt

  • Soft cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese

  • Clear broth, creamed soups

  • Baked, poached, or broiled fish

  • Ground or thinly-shaved meat (turkey, chicken, beef, pork)

  • Soft-cooked eggs

  • Tuna, chicken, or egg salad

  • Silken tofu

  • hummus

  • Ice cream, pudding, custard (no nuts)

  • Soft cakes or cookies (no nuts, candy, raisins)

  • Condiments, gravy, sauces, spices

  • Butter, vegetable oil, margarine

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Hard cheese

  • Cheese with nuts or seeds

  • Shellfish

  • Hot dogs, sausage

  • Fried meat or fish

  • Crunchy nut butter

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Raw vegetables

  • Fruit with pits or skins

  • Dried fruit

  • Whole olives

  • Coconut

  • Bread, muffins, cakes, or cookies with seeds, nuts, or dried fruit

  • Crunchy bread (rye, pumpernickel, sourdough)

  • Kasha buckwheat or wild rice

  • Shredded wheat

  • Granola

  • French fries, hash browns

  • Toast

  • Crackers, melba toast, croutons

  • Chips, popcorn, pretzels, crunchy cookies

  • Granola bars

  • Pie crust

  • Chewy or hard candy

  • Jams and jelly with seeds

  • "Meaty" fish (haddock, halibut)

Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables can be peeled, cooked, mashed or strained, and easily blended to make them safe for a mechanical soft diet. Some produce, like avocado, is ready to eat as-is. Mash or purée other fruits and veggies—just remember to remove any seeds first.

Save yourself some work by purchasing pre-sliced, diced, or chopped fruits and veggies. Prepackaged frozen produce is also easy to add to shakes and smoothies.

Grains: Avoid any cold cereals or granola with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or candy. Options like bran and corn flakes can be softened with milk.

Hot cereals like Cream of Wheat, oatmeal, and grits work well for a mechanical soft diet as long as they are without nuts, berries, or other toppings. Try adding mushy fruit like bananas to cereal or oats. To increase calories, add nutrition, and improve flavor, add cream, honey, or protein powder to hot or cold cereal.

Soft bread can be used to make sandwiches with egg, chicken, or tuna salad. Avoid toasting bread or choosing varieties with hard, crispy crusts.

Mashed or instant potatoes are allowed on a mechanical soft diet, but you'll want to skip fried-style potatoes like french fries or hash browns.

Dairy: Dairy products like yogurt, soft cheese, ice cream, and puddings are already suitable for a mechanical soft diet without any additional prep. Try using powdered milk as a protein-packed way to add more calories to a smoothie.

If you are lactose-intolerant, you can usually find dairy-free versions of many types of yogurt, ice cream, and even cheese.

Protein: Meat is allowed on a mechanical soft diet with special prep. Remove fat or gristle and cook the meat until tender. Use gravy and sauce to moisten the meat and help prevent it from becoming tough. Ground meat can also be puréed. Soften canned tuna with mayonnaise or water.

Soft-cooked, poached, or scrambled eggs, egg whites, and Egg Beaters are also a good choice for a mechanical soft diet.

If you don't eat animal products, plant-based protein sources like smooth nut butter, mashed up beans, or silken tofu are approved.

Desserts: Soft cakes, cookies, puddings, and custards are allowed as long as they don't have any pieces of candy, nuts, or seeds in them. Ice cream, sorbet, and other frozen treats are easy to swallow and can be soothing to a sore throat or mouth.

If you need to add nutrition or calories, nutrition powders, yeasts, and supplements can be tossed into milkshakes and smoothies, sprinkled on oats or yogurt, or mixed into a warm beverage.

Avoid any sticky, chewy, or crunchy candies like caramels, licorice, and lollipops.

Beverages: All liquids are allowed and are necessary for staying hydrated while you're on a mechanical soft diet. If you’re making shakes, smoothies, or blended drinks, just make sure there aren’t any large pieces of fruit, nuts, or other solids.

Recommended Timing

In general, you should be able to follow your regular schedule for eating. However, if you are eating fewer calories, you may need to eat more often to ensure you are getting enough nutrition each day.

If pain is making it hard for you to eat, you may want to start with smaller amounts of soft food more frequently, rather than asking your mouth to work harder with larger portions. 

Cooking Tips

Kitchen implements such as blenders and food processors can make the task of preparing soft foods much easier, but it can still be done even if you don’t have these appliances.

A knife is sufficient for chopping food into smaller pieces. Once cut, many foods can be softened up in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. Adding gravy, sauce, oils, butter, or a little water can also help.

You may need to use a strainer to help catch any larger pieces or food that haven't been broken down or sift out any leftovers like seeds and nuts.

Some foods may be more soothing and easier to swallow if they're chilled, such as ice cream, pudding, and yogurt. On the other hand, warm broths, creamy soups, and hot cereals can also be soothing.

Once you find some meals you like and that work for the mechanical soft diet, prepare larger batches and freeze them.

For beverages, you can usually stick to your preference for how they’re served, but you’ll want to avoid any that are extremely hot or cold. If your mouth is still healing, test the temperature of your drink carefully.

If you drink something that's too hot, you risk burning your mouth or throat. While a cold drink can also ease pain, make sure you don't add ice with sharp edges. 

Modifications 

If you have other medical conditions your doctor may suggest additional restrictions to a basic mechanical soft diet to help control your symptoms. For example, if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) you may need to avoid spicy or acidic foods and drinks, which can cause or worsen irritation. 

If you follow a special diet, such as gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or low-FODMAP, you can easily incorporate approved foods into a mechanical soft diet. However, if you need to add liquid nutritional supplements, you will want to carefully check the list of ingredients.  

Considerations

If you need to change the way you eat, even if it’s temporary, you’ll want to think about all the areas of your life that will be affected.

Other than food shopping and prep, consider how your day-to-day schedule and the responsibilities of work and family life might affect your ability to adhere to a special diet (and vice versa).

General Nutrition

Components of a mechanical soft diet can be adjusted to match your appetite, tastes, and nutritional needs. Of course, when you’re feeling sick or in pain eating a healthy balanced diet (especially one with special requirements or restrictions) can pose challenges. You may also have a hard time drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration

Just as you would with your regular diet, you’ll want to be sure to get a good mix of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. 

If you need to be on a mechanical soft diet for more than a few days, check with your health care team to ensure you have what you need to prepare nutritious meals. Your doctor may want you to add caloric and/or vitamin supplements.

Sustainability and Practicality

Making foods work for a mechanical soft diet can require a bit of work. If you know you will need to be on the diet to recover from a planned procedure, you will have some time to plan ahead. This might include stocking up on healthy foods that are easy to chew as well as chopping, cooking, and softening fruits, veggies, and meat.

If you are too sick to prepare food or are on a mechanical soft diet unexpectedly, look for foods and beverages that require little preparation. If you have others who can help with food prep, make sure they have the guidelines for a mechanical soft diet handy.

Safety

The primary goal of a mechanical soft diet is to ensure you don't experience any complications, such as choking or aspirating, due to compromised chewing and swallowing. The mechanical soft diet also gives your mouth, jaw, or throat time to heal if you're recovering from an illness, injury, or surgical/orthodontic procedure.

While this type of diet useful for short-term healing, it's hard to get all the nutrition you need over a long period of time. If you require a mechanical soft food diet for more than a couple of weeks, you'll need to check in with your doctor regularly.

Together you can identify your caloric and nutritional needs. As you form a plan to ensure you're meeting those needs, you may need to work with a dietician or nutritionist or add a nutritional supplement to your diet.

Flexibility

As long as foods can be made easy to chew and swallow, you won’t have to limit your diet too drastically. You’ll still be able to eat most of your favorite foods, though perhaps in a way that’s different from what you’re used to. 

You’ll even have some options if you’re eating away from home or dining out at a restaurant. Yogurt, eggs, and hot cereal can usually be found on the breakfast menu and creamy soups or mashed potatoes can make a lunch or dinner entree. Plus, ice cream and sorbet are dessert-list staples.

If you’re hitting the drive-thru, most fast food restaurants offer a wide selection of beverages and often have smoothies and milkshakes. 

Dietary Restrictions

If you have a health condition that is influenced by what you eat or have special dietary concerns, additional restrictions may apply to a mechanical soft diet.

The reason you've been prescribed a mechanical soft diet will also determine the need for additional limits or recommendations. For example, if you have a dental problem or mouth sores, you'll want to avoid acidic or spicy foods like vinegar, mustard, Tabasco sauce, or chili seasoning, which can worsen the irritation and interfere with healing.

Support and Community

When you’re recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery, you’ll likely need support from people in your life beyond your health care team. You may need practical help, such as with preparing meals, but you’ll likely need emotional support as well. 

If you’re on a mechanical soft diet due to a specific medical condition, such as esophageal cancer, GERD, or a disorder affecting your jaw, you may find it helpful to talk to other patients who have been through what you’re going through.

There may be in-person support groups where you live, as well as online websites, resources, and social network groups for patients. 

Cost

Beyond your typical grocery bill, other costs you may want to consider are the tools and appliances that could make preparing food for a mechanical soft diet easier. 

For example, a basic blender or mini food chopper can be purchased at Walmart for around $20. Food processors are typically more expensive; closer to $50 at Target. 

If you’re shopping online you may be able to find some other tools as well, such as a handheld baby food maker that can be used to purée and blend food ($40 on Amazon).

Even something as simple as having a good knife for chopping can make a lot of difference. For around $20, you can get a colorful Cuisinart knife set on Amazon. 

Side Effects

If you experience constipation after changing your diet, be sure you’re drinking enough water. Prune juice can also help stimulate a bowel movement. When preparing meals, try sprinkling bran flakes into milkshakes, yogurt, or oatmeal. 

Energy and General Health

If you're eating a diet that’s more limited than you're used to, you may be frustrated by the lack of choices. Additionally, if you're not eating as much as you usually do, you may have low energy. 

When you’re primarily eating soft foods and liquids, it can be difficult to figure out how many calories you’re getting. If you feel like you aren’t eating enough to keep your strength up, or you notice you’re losing weight, talk to your doctor. 

Depending on what you include in a soft mechanical diet, you may not be able to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. If you notice you are very tired, have bleeding gums, are not thinking clearly, develop rashes, or have other symptoms that concern you, make sure you let your doctor know. You may have a deficiency in a certain nutrient that’s causing your symptoms. 

If you aren’t able to correct a deficiency by eating more of a certain food, you may be able to take a supplement until you’re back on your normal diet. 

Mechanical Soft Diet vs. Other Diets

The mechanical soft diet is similar to several other diets used to treat pain and other symptoms associated with digestive disorders. These diets may also be used to help patients prepare or recover from surgery.

However, these diets are generally much more restrictive because they limit food groups based on attributes other than consistency, such as fiber or fat content. 

Soft (Puréed) Diet

The main difference between the two diets is that the mechanical soft diet is focused on reducing the amount of chewing necessary, while a soft diet takes care of the rest of your digestive system as well. 

Many foods on a mechanical soft diet also work for a soft diet. However, on a soft diet, your choices may also be limited by the food's fiber or fat content.

A soft diet is usually prescribed for people who are recovering from bowel surgery or have digestive disorders. You may also need to be on a soft diet to prepare for a procedure or test such as endoscopy or colonoscopy

Liquid Diet

A full liquid diet may be necessary if you can’t eat or digest any solid food at all. People with medical emergencies like bowel obstruction may be limited to a liquid-only diet while they recover or if they need an operation.

When preparing for surgery, you may be told you can only have clear liquids. If you’re already eating a mechanical soft diet, many of the approved foods can be made suitable for a liquid diet if you thin them out with water. 

Dysphagia Diet (Stages 1-3)

The National Dysphagia Diet (NDD) was created in 2002 by the American Dietetic Association. The special staged diet is prescribed for people who are having trouble swallowing.

The first stage includes only food that does not need to be chewed, such as yogurt and pudding. The second stage is limited to foods that only need a little chewing, such as soft-cooked eggs. In stage three, foods that require a little more chewing, such as fruit and vegetables chopped into small pieces or mashed up, can be added.

People with dysphagia are typically given instructions about how to sit when they eat and drink to help prevent them from aspirating and food or liquids. 

Your doctor may ask you to sit up while eating and drinking and remain in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after. You may also be given swallowing exercises or special instructions for taking medications (such as crushing or splitting pills). 

A Word From Verywell

If you’re having trouble chewing and swallowing or recovering from certain surgical or dental procedures, your doctor may prescribe a mechanical soft diet. You'll need to change the consistency of the foods you eat, but you won’t be as limited in your choices as you would be on a soft or liquid-only diet. Many of the foods you typically eat can be made safe for a mechanical soft diet by chopping, blending, or puréeing them.

Certain kitchen tools can make the task easier, but there are also many foods, such as yogurt and cottage cheese, that work for a mechanical soft diet without needing any special prep. You will probably only need to be on a mechanical soft diet for a short period of time. If you are worried you aren't getting enough to eat or adequate nutrition, your doctor and a registered dietician can help you create a meal plan.



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