7 Best Proteins for Dysphagia Diets, By Cat Ludwig, RDN, LD. background of fish, with pictures of turkey legs, a blender, yogurt, a cow, a plate of tofu, and a can of food.

The 7 Best Proteins for Dysphagia Diets

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Proteins For Dysphagia (Swallowing Difficulty)

Many people that have trouble swallowing are concerned about getting enough food into the body, specifically protein. Why is protein for dysphagia management so important? What even is protein? Protein is a nutrient that does many jobs to keep your body healthy.

Nutrients (the things in foods that, among other things, give you energy and keep you alive) are classified into three major categories, called macronutrients. These categories are Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates (I will discuss the other two categories is other posts). All three of these things are absolutely necessary to keep you not only alive, but healthy. Proteins provide your body with the ability to:

  • build cells, hormones, enzymes, and more,
  • grow muscles and bones,
  • defend (immunity),
  • heal,
  • maintain hormone function,
  • communicate,
  • and many more!

The bottom line is: You NEED protein. You absolutely cannot live without it.

Proteins For Dysphagia Are Found in Food

The building blocks that make up proteins are called Amino Acids. These are found in every food, but in different amounts. Your body can make some of them (called non-essential) and you need to get others from foods (essential).

You can get protein from animals (chicken, fish, beef, etc) or you can get protein from plants. The difference is that protein from animals is “complete”, meaning it has all the essential amino acids your body needs.

Protein from plants is “incomplete”, meaning plants each have a certain kind of amino acids but not all of them.

Amino Acid Joke: amino acid structure that looks sort of like a person saying "I'm stealing your lunch". Punch line: A-mean-o-acid.
Amino Acid Joke

What this means: in order to get all the parts of protein that you need to be healthy you have to eat multiple plants together to get all the correct pieces to make up proteins. For example, beans and rice together makes a “complete” protein. It’s like having all the pieces of a puzzle. Without all the pieces it’s not quite complete.

Types of Protein Foods

Almost all foods contain all three macronutrients (carb, protein, and fat), but some are higher in protein. The following foods are highest in protein:

  • Meat (chicken, beef, pork)
  • Seafood (fish & shellfish, like clams and shrimp)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk)
  • Nuts 
  • Seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils)
  • Soy (tofu)
  • Seitan (made of wheat gluten because gluten is a protein!)
  • Grains (rice, barley, oats, quinoa, etc.)

Ok, Now How Do I Prepare These Protein Foods?

So now the big question…how do I swallow these protein foods safely? First you must know what YOU can tolerate (Please discuss with your Doctor and Speech Therapist):

  • Do you need thin, liquidized consistency or is a thicker consistency ok? 
  • Are you able to move food around with your tongue well or not? 
  • Does your food have to be a perfectly smooth consistency, or can it have some lumps in it? 
  • Do you need to add extra moisture to your bites so that it is easier to swallow?

Consistency of Protein Food for Dysphagia

Now that we have a better idea of the consistency that you need your foods to be, let’s talk about HOW to process the food. You need a good blender or food processor. A Vitamix blender is the gold standard for pureeing but what you have in your kitchen should work well too. For other options, please see the Dysphagia Dietitian Resource page.

Liquids to Add (protein rich is best)

You also need an appropriate amount of liquid to get a good, consistent texture. Using the right type of liquid can also add protein (and flavor!) to your meal. I typically avoid water (because it doesn’t have any flavor unless you need the hydration) and use broth, milk, or juice depending on what your desired flavor profile is.

What are the 7 BEST proteins for Dysphagia?

Here are a few Proteins for Dysphagia that I recommend:

  1. Your favorite protein powder or supplement drink. It can be mixed into most liquids, and the liquid can be thickened as needed.
    • I am a BIG fan of Orgain supplements. They have milk based, and plant based supplements and powders to meet the needs of most diet restrictions or preferences.
  2. Tofu. If can be seasoned/flavored then pureed any way you like.
  3. Greek yogurt. Smooth and thick, you can thin it out or add seasoning of your choice. I personally prefer the full fat version but they can be hard to find.
  4. Salmon. Puree with cream cheese, dill, and lemon juice to make a delicious, high protein “mousse”. Typically served at fancy parties on crackers. It is high protein and very flavorful.
  5. Chicken. Make your favorite chicken salad recipe then puree, dark meat purees best. You can always add extra seasonings and spices if you are feeling adventurous and can tolerate.
  6. Eggs. Soft scrambled eggs can be eaten by most people without needing to be pureed. You can also try a souffle or quiche to mix your meals. Add pureed veggies for color and be careful not to overcook!
  7. Bone Broth. Open a can or container of broth and use it instead of water for all your savory meals. It is full of protein and can be thickened as needed. It will also add liquid to help you stay hydrated.

So what is the best protein for you?

Answer: The one that tastes good and that you can chew and swallow safely!

Conclusion of Proteins for Dysphagia

At the end of the day, the important thing to remember is that you need to keep getting food into your body. Adding protein sources to each meal, in whichever form you prefer, is best for helping you stay healthy.

For additional questions, please follow me on YouTube, FB, or IG @DysphagiaDuo and @CatludwigRDN or send an email to dysphagiaduo@gmail.com.

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