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Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann

The Effects of Stroke on Eating and Nutrition

Stroke is a leading cause of adult death in the United States. Commonly referred to as a brain attack, stroke occurs when a clot obstructs the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures.  Stroke can cause major disability. For instance, it can impact a person’s ability to eat and drink which can compromise nutritional health.  This is usually from brain damage that affects muscle coordination.

Impaired muscle coordination can weaken tongue control causing swallowing problems (dysphagia).  Further, this condition can cause drooling from inability to seal lips and trapped food between the cheek and teeth because of poor tongue control.  Swallowing problems are a concern because of the risk of malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss. Aspiration (food and liquid getting into the airway) can also happen, which can develop into pneumonia.

A person with a swallowing problem may also choke and cough during meals, may be incapable of sucking from a straw, and have a poor gag reflex.  Special foods and beverages with modified textures may be necessary to ensure sufficient calories and nutrient needs are being met.  A registered dietitian (R.D.) can develop an individual care plan that will provide a safe, appetizing, and nutritionally adequate diet.

Helpful tips for eating well and managing swallowing problems.
  • Avoid dry, hard, sticky foods as well as those with skins and seeds that can get lodged in the throat.
  • Serve finely chopped or pureed foods that require less chewing.
  • Eat moist foods such as thick stews, puddings and custards, casseroles and foods with sauces.
  • Drink liquids of thicker rather than thinner consistency because they are easier to swallow.
  • Have sufficient liquids throughout the day to stay well hydrated.
  • Serve foods either very warm or well chilled to make swallowing easier.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day to meet nutrient needs.

Dr. Wendy Dahl, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist at the University of Florida/IFAS has developed a series of publications on Food Modifications for Special Needs.  You can access all of her publications at UF/IFAS EDIS (Electronic Distribution Information System).

Click the links below for a preview of some of her publications on Food Modifications for Special Needs.