What are food and drink thickeners?

If you care for someone with swallowing difficulties, there’s every chance that you must have heard of food and drink thickeners. If you’re wondering what they are, this article is for you.

A lack of appetite could actually be a result of pain or gag reflex. A thickening agent will help make meals more pleasurable to eat. It will also help to reduce the probability of choking.

What are food and drink thickeners?

These are gel or starch-based additives that are added to foods and drinks to make them easier to swallow. They reduce the flow rate of thin liquids, which will then prevent the drink from getting into the airways of the person swallowing.

If liquid or food enters the lungs, it might result in problems like choking, coughing and aspiration pneumonia. Food and drink thickeners ensure that the food or beverage moves slowly inside the throat to the digestive system.

Persons with dysphagia usually have to eat diets composed of thick liquids. These liquids are in three categories and vary in consistency. They are:

1. Nectar thick liquids, which have a soup-like, creamy consistency and are simple to pour.

2. Honey thick liquids, on the other hand, are harder to pour. They are drizzled into a beverage or food.

3. Spoon thick liquids won’t pour. They usually keep their shape, while holding a consistency that is pudding-like.

Who needs food and drink thickeners?

Thickeners are normally recommended for people with swallowing difficulties. This difficulty can affect anybody, regardless of age. However, it most commonly affects the elderly. When you become older, your esophagus and pharynx muscles start to lose tone. After some time, this loss could begin to affect your swallowing ability, which will then result in dysphagia.

Also, food and liquid thickeners can benefit people with chronic diseases:

  • Dementia.
  • Stroke.
  • Parkinson’s.
  • Reflux disease.
  • Spinal cord injury.

People receiving cancer treatment – particularly for neck, throat and head cancer – are also likely to benefit.

Food thickeners for dysphagia management

Commercially-available food thickeners like SimplyThick Easy Mix are normally used for nutritional and medical management of patients suffering from dysphagia. It helps to improve bolus control and prevent aspiration. These products come in the form of gel and powder. It can also come as a pre-thickened drink. Drinks and beverages like water, tea, coffee, and juice can be mildly thick, nectar thick or honey thick.

Starch-based thickening products are sensitive to temperature, time and acidity. They can become less or more viscous, which can become a safety hazard for people prescribed a particular drink thickness for efficient swallowing. Even with this, demand for products that enable thickened beverages continues to grow. 

Are thickening agents safe?

Food and drink thickeners are safe to consume. Most of the thickening agents available on the market comprise of powder, gel or all-natural ingredients, they also have no side effects.

There are people, especially ones with dementia, who may refuse to take food and drink thickeners. It is important that you find a brand that they enjoy consuming as this is the only way they will continue to use it.

Red Note: 30 September 2022

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