Most people don't know what it means when they're told to go on a liquid diet after mouth surgery or digestive-tract procedures. DietDoc explains how this type of diet works:
Guidelines for a liquid diet
If your loved one isn't confined to a hospital, where the appropriate liquid diet should be supplied either intravenously or by tube, then the following factors should be taken into consideration:
- Need for extra energy after surgery to build up the weakened individual
- Need for extra protein after surgery to meet additional requirements
- Weight of the person, i.e. overweight, underweight or normal weight
- Need for additional protective nutrients such as vitamins and minerals
- Level of activity - bedridden or ambulatory
During the initial few days after discharge, when your loved one is still weak, recovering from the trauma of the operation and the after-effects of surgery and anaesthesia, and when s/he isn't able to move around a great deal, the first priority is to get him/her to start eating again. S/he may suffer from nausea and/or lack of appetite.
If this is the case, it's important to offer favourite foods in liquid form, such as jelly, ice cream, custard, milk shakes, fruit juice or liquidised fruit.
- Prepare soft jelly by adding more water than normal (about ½ a cup of extra liquid)
- Let ice cream soften and whip up with milk if the person has difficulty swallowing
- Use runny custard to make it easier to swallow
- Prepare milk shakes
- Use 1 cup of cold, full-cream milk, ½ cup of mashed canned or fresh fruit (without pips or peels) and 1 tablespoon of honey or sugar and liquidise in a blender (serve cold)
- Mashed banana, canned pears, peaches, apple puree and mashed avocado make delicious and high-energy milk shakes
- Add up to 3 tablespoons of fat-free milk powder to the milkshake to increase the protein content of the drink
- Use low-fat or fat-free milk if the person needs to restrict their energy intake
- Serve less acidic fruit juices, such as apple or grape juice
- Use Yogi-sip or flavoured milk drinks or dilute flavoured yoghurt with additional milk (if the yoghurt contains pieces of fruit or pips, it may have to be strained before serving)
- Serve milkshakes, custard, jelly and fruit juices well chilled as nauseous people are less likely to reject chilled food
- Use energy drinks such as Energade to give the person with high-energy requirements a boost
- Use a liquid meal replacement such as Ensure or Nutren 1.0, or Peptamen or Lifegain, which should all be available from your chemist
- Prepare clear soups by dissolving Marmite, Bovril or stock cubes in boiling water (allow to cool so that the person doesn't burn her/his mouth)
- Ensure that the s/he is drinking enough water to meet his/her needs (also serve chilled if the person is nauseous)
The following should be avoided:
- Fizzy cold drinks
- Excessive intakes of tea or coffee (serve with milk)
- Any fruit that contains pips, such as guavas or berries
- Acid fruits, like pineapple or orange
Once the person starts to recover and has conquered nausea and post-operative lack of appetite and food aversions, the food and drinks listed above can be expanded to include the following:
- Homemade soups - make potato, butternut or vegetable soup and either strain or liquidise. Add more liquid if the person has difficulty swallowing the soup. Add 2-3 tablespoons of fat-free milk powder if the person requires additional protein.
- Cook minced lean beef or lamb (cut off all visible fat) with a stock cube, and liquidise.
- Liquidise cooked vegetables such as potato, butternut, pumpkin, squash or carrots, and mix with liquidised meat. Dilute with milk or stock to assist swallowing.
- Make soft porridge (oats, Maltabella, Creemy-Meal, maize meal), add sugar or honey and dilute with milk to aid swallowing.
- Use Purity baby foods (vegetables, fruit and yoghurt) when you need to feed the person and have no time to prepare liquidised dishes.
The use of a liquid diet may cause constipation, as such diets are usually low in dietary fibre. Discuss this problem with the surgeon before the operation to make sure that your loved one doesn't damage the digestive tract by using the wrong type of laxative.
Nutren Fibre is a meal replacement that contains prebiotic fibre to promote normal bowel function in patients on liquid diets.
Multivitamin and mineral supplements may also be required if the person has to use a liquid diet for longer periods of time. A liquid vitamin and mineral supplement is usually advisable, such as Vi-Daylin, Clusivol, Vi-Daylin with Minerals or Viteral.
By applying the above-mentioned guidelines, you can ensure that you or any member of your family who needs a liquid diet will not develop deficiencies while recovering from his or her operation.
Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.