What Is the Mechanical Soft Diet?

bowl of oatmeal with honey

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In This Article

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 making food softer, smaller, and easier to eat through the use of kitchen implements like blenders, food processors, and grinders.

Benefits

The soft mechanical diet helps you get balanced nutrition despite not being able to chew or swallow easily and/or without discomfort.

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, as soft foods tend to be easier on your system.

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 hard or crunchy snacks.

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

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 healthcare team to ensure you stay nourished and hydrated. You may also find it helpful to work with a registered dietitian or nutritionist who 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 original form.

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

  • Stewed fruit (remove skin, pits, or seeds)

  • Avocado

  • Farina

  • 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, egg salad

  • Tuna, chicken

  • Silken tofu

  • Hummus

  • Ice cream, pudding, custard (no nuts)

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

  • Condiments, gravy, sauces, spices

  • Butter, vegetable/cooking oils, margarine

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Hard cheese, cheese with nuts or seeds

  • Shellfish and "meaty" fish (e.g., haddock, halibut)

  • Hot dogs, sausage

  • Fried meat or fish

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Crunchy nut butters

  • Raw vegetables

  • Whole fruit with skin, pits, or seeds

  • 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/jelly with seeds

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.

Prepackaged frozen produce is convenient and often softer right out of the package.

Grains: Avoid dry, hard cereals, as well as granola with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or candy.

Hot cereals like farina, oatmeal, and grits work well for a mechanical soft diet as long as you don't add nuts, berries, or other toppings. Try tossing in mushy fruit like bananas instead.

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

Crackers, cereals, and crunchy cookies can be softened with water or milk (slurried).

Dairy: Dairy products like yogurt, soft cheese, and cottage cheese are already suitable for a mechanical soft diet without any additional prep.

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 substitutes 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, and silken tofu are all approved.

Desserts: Soft cakes, cookies, 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.

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.

Cooking Tips

Kitchen appliances and gadgets such as blenders and food processors can make the task of preparing soft foods much easier, but they certainly aren't required.

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. A regular fork is often sufficient for mashing. Adding gravy, sauce, oils, butter, or a little water can help your efforts.

Fruits, vegetables, and meat can be cooked until tender and chopped up (smaller than 1/4 inch in size).

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.

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. Avoid any extreme temperatures, as well as 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) or a dental problem, you will likely 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 for allergens.

Considerations

Components of a mechanical soft diet can be adjusted to match your appetite, tastes, and nutritional needs. While flexible in these regards, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

General Nutrition

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. Of course, when you’re feeling sick or in pain, this can be challenging. You may also have a hard time drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

If you need to be on a mechanical soft diet for more than a few days, check with your healthcare team to ensure that your body is getting what it needs.

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 meats.

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

A mechanical soft diet should be easy enough to consume that the risk of pain and choking is very low. However, these things are possible if you're not careful about food preparation—for example, meat is cut just a tad too large or a vegetable isn't steamed enough.

Be mindful in the kitchen and with what you are served. You can also consider asking a loved one to assess the consistency of something before you take a bite.

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 for around $20. Food processors are typically more expensive (closer to $50). You may also want to invest in a good, sharp knife for chopping, which can cost as low as $20 or much more.

Energy and General Health

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, 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.

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 is not.

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 to 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, including those who will need to be on an altered diet long term, such as after a stroke. A mechanical soft diet generally falls around the second stage of the dysphagia diet.

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 fruits 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.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re having trouble chewing and swallowing or are 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.



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