A mechanical soft diet comprises soft-textured foods that a person has pureed, mashed, or blended. It is ideal for people who find it difficult to swallow solid foods. It is possible to include all the major food groups in a mechanical soft diet. For this reason, it can be as nutritious as any other diet.

Many people can benefit from eating a mechanical soft diet. Although the diet omits a variety of textures, it does not have to taste bland.

This article outlines who might need to follow a mechanical soft diet, the foods they can eat safely, and some foods they may wish to avoid.

A mechanical soft diet consists of any foods that can be blended, mashed, pureed, or chopped using a kitchen tool such as a knife, a grinder, a blender, or a food processor. These processes break down the structure of foods to make them soft and easy to eat without biting or chewing.

People also call the foods that make up a mechanical soft diet “texture-modified foods.” It is common for healthcare professionals to recommend this kind of diet for people who have had surgery or who are recovering from an illness.

Unlike the bland diet, which comprises easily digestible foods, a mechanical soft diet focuses only on the texture of foods. It does not restrict spices, fried foods, or foods that cause gas.

Eating a mechanical soft diet might be necessary when a person is recovering from an illness or surgical procedure or finds swallowing difficult for any other reason.

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty with swallowing. The condition affects around 560 million people worldwide. It is most common in older adults.

Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem with one of the body parts involved in swallowing, such as the tongue, cheek muscles, or throat. Any condition that weakens the muscles and nerves used for swallowing can cause dysphagia.

The condition can also occur when signals from the brain to the body parts involved in swallowing do not work correctly.

Specifically, a person may need to eat a mechanical soft diet if they are:

  • recovering from head, neck, or mouth surgery
  • experiencing difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • recovering from a stroke
  • living with a long-term condition that affects chewing and swallowing, such as cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease
  • living with a cancer of the head, neck, or esophagus
  • living with a neurodegenerative condition
  • recovering from bariatric surgery
  • dealing with dental problems, such as wearing ill-fitting dentures or having no teeth

Following a mechanical soft diet can help people transition from consuming liquids to eating a solid-food diet.

A mechanical soft diet can be just as nutritious as a regular solid-food diet because it can include all the major food groups.

For a healthy, balanced diet, it is important to include foods from each of these groups:

  • dairy products
  • fruits and vegetables
  • protein-rich foods
  • starches and grains

Eating a mechanical soft diet takes careful planning and preparation, so it can take a while to get used to.

Also, according to some 2021 research in the journal Healthcare, the extra effort involved might put people off eating healthily. This puts them at risk of malnutrition.

The following tips can help ensure that a person stays well-nourished while following a mechanical soft diet:

  • If eating normal-sized meals is difficult, a person can consider eating smaller meals or adding regular, nutritious snacks throughout the day.
  • Consuming high calorie, nutrient-rich drinks can help a person meet their nutritional needs. These can be shop-bought or homemade by blending fruit with milk, yogurt, ice cream, or even silken tofu to boost protein.
  • Including a wide variety of foods not only prevents boredom but also allows a person to get the vitamins, minerals, and energy their body needs.

The foods recommended for a mechanical soft diet vary from person to person. Foods that one person can chew or swallow with ease might cause discomfort for someone else.

It is important to seek the advice of a registered dietitian or doctor before following a mechanical soft diet.

Most people can include the following foods in a mechanical soft diet.

Dairy products

  • milk
  • yogurt
  • pureed cottage cheese
  • cheese sauce
  • cream cheese
  • milkshakes
  • evaporated or condensed milk
  • smoothies made with soft fruits
  • frozen yogurt
  • dairy ice cream

Fruits and vegetables

  • cooked and pureed vegetables
  • vegetable juices
  • smooth mashed potatoes
  • vegetable soups
  • mashed avocado
  • applesauce
  • pureed soft fruits or cooked and pureed harder fruits
  • drained, canned fruits

Protein-rich foods

  • scrambled, poached, or soft-boiled eggs
  • ground or finely minced cooked meat or fish
  • finely chopped or mashed tofu
  • tuna, chicken, or egg salad made with mayonnaise or yogurt
  • cooked, mashed beans, peas, and legumes (with added water for a smooth consistency)
  • finely diced or ground meatloaf
  • hummus

Breads, cereals, and starches

  • oatmeal
  • moist white rice
  • cereals softened with milk
  • soft-cooked pasta, bearing in mind that small pasta varieties, such as macaroni, may be easiest to swallow
  • soft bread rolls
  • soft pancakes moistened with pureed fruit or syrup

Desserts

  • custard
  • pudding
  • sorbet or sherbet
  • ice cream or popsicles
  • rice pudding
  • soft cookies without nuts or dried fruits

Sauces, spreads, and condiments

  • white sauce with or without flavorings, such as cheese or parsley
  • gravy
  • ketchup, chili, or barbecue sauce
  • honey
  • fruit jelly
  • smooth peanut butter
  • butter, margarine, and oils
  • mayonnaise

People may wish to avoid the following foods while adhering to a mechanical soft diet, as they require thorough chewing.

Dairy products

  • hard cheeses
  • yogurt containing chunks of fruit

Fruits and vegetables

  • raw vegetables
  • lightly cooked vegetables that are still crunchy
  • french fries
  • fruits with skins and seeds
  • dried fruits
  • stringy raw fruits, such as pineapple and mango
  • coconut

Protein-rich foods

  • fried chicken or fish
  • shellfish
  • fish with bones
  • thick cold cuts
  • sausages, hamburgers, and wieners
  • dried beans, nuts, and seeds
  • casseroles with large chunks of meat
  • jerky

Breads, cereals, and starches

  • coarse breads containing seeds or nuts
  • brown or wild rice
  • hard crackers
  • popcorn
  • dry cereal with chunks of fruit or nuts, such as muesli or granola

Desserts

  • chewy-textured desserts
  • chunky pies
  • pastries
  • cookies
  • desserts containing dried fruits or nuts

A mechanical soft diet offers a solution for people who have difficulty swallowing solid food. It can be healthy and nutritious, but the extra planning and preparation time can be daunting at first.

A person should check with a healthcare professional before starting a mechanical soft diet. They can offer tailored advice and help monitor the individual’s health and nutrition intake.