How to Thicken Liquids for a Medical Diet

Thickening liquids are a medical dietary modification that thickens the consistency of liquids to prevent choking. Thickened liquids are recommended for people who have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) and prevent food or liquids from entering the airways. If you have a neurological condition such as a stroke, a weakened esophagus muscle or neuropathy, or a blockage (blockage) in the throat, you may need to increase fluids to treat difficulty swallowing.

Types of

  • Thin or low-viscosity liquids, such as regular water, pose the greatest risk of choking and aspiration for those who have difficulty swallowing. To prevent inhalation in at-risk groups, additives can increase the viscosity (consistency) of the liquid. Besides water, examples of thin liquids include soda, coffee, juice, and soup. An example of a naturally thicker liquid (higher viscosity) is buttermilk. The amount of liquid that should be thickened usually depends on the severity of dysphagia.
  • The consistency of a nectar-like or slightly thickened liquid will still come out of the spoon. However, the liquid is thick enough to leave a thin film on the surface of the spoon.
  • Honey-like or medium consistency liquids will no longer flow freely from the spoon. Instead, the honey-like liquid drips from the tip of the spoon.
  • Spoon-thick or very thick liquids will no longer drip from the spoon. The thick liquid of the spoon is firmer and stays on the spoon when it is tilted. It’s more of a pudding consistency.

Available Thickener Types

There are a variety of thickening products on the market today. You can buy pre-thickened drinks or thickened products that you mix yourself. Thickeners are starch-based and gum-based varieties. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Although there is some debate as to whether the use of thickeners affects hydration, studies in rats and humans show that 95% of the liquid can be absorbed using commercial thickeners.It may be helpful to seek help from a speech-language pathologist or nutritionist on how to properly thicken fluids.

Starch-based thickeners are easier to mix; however, they are best eaten right after mixing. The longer the starch-based thickener sits, the thicker the consistency will be. If the liquid is subsequently refrigerated, the liquid may become too thick. Commercial products include:

  • thicken
  • thick it

Gum base thickeners require more care when mixing as they tend to clump more and must be mixed well to avoid inconsistent fluid consistency. If the liquids are not mixed properly, you may accidentally increase rather than decrease the risk of suffocation. One advantage of gum-based thickeners is that once mixed, the consistency remains stable and can be refrigerated. Commercial products include:

  • simple and thick
  • AquaCareH2O
  • clear

How to know if you need to thicken your liquid

If your healthcare provider is concerned that you are having trouble swallowing, he or she may recommend that you be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. He or she will be able to perform the necessary tests to determine if you are at risk of aspiration and suffocation. A speech-language pathologist usually does an evaluation, and they ask you questions, look at the structure of your face and mouth, and watch you eat. If further testing is required, a modified barium swallow (MBS) study or fiberoptic endoscopic swallowing evaluation (FEES) may be ordered. Based on the results of these tests, your doctor may recommend thickening fluids.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is concentrated water?

    Thick or concentrated water is water designed for people who have difficulty swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. Concentrated water contains an odorless, tasteless thickener, such as xanthan gum, which makes the water thicker.

  • Why would someone need to drink thick liquids?

    People who have difficulty swallowing need to drink thick liquids to prevent choking. Difficulty swallowing, or difficulty swallowing, can be caused by a neurological disorder, such as stroke, muscle weakness or blockage in the esophagus.

  • What are the ingredients of thick it?

    Thick-It is a food and beverage thickener available in two formulations: Thick-It Original and Thick-It Clear Advantage.

    Thick-It Original contains modified cornstarch. Thick-It Clear Advantage contains xanthan gum, maltodextrin and ascorbic acid.