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I did not order this: understanding therapeutic diets

by Sue Lanza

During health challenges that require a hospital admission or a stay in an extended care facility, seniors and caregivers are likely to have a meal or two away from home. Being prepared on what to expect can make this culinary journey a happier one.

Nobody cooks like you or your family so entering a hospital or facility setting and eating the food there can be a startling experience. So what can you expect?

The first thing you learn about your stay and what you are allowed to eat is that your doctor is in charge. That's right, not you--your doctor. Depending what your medical situation is, your doctor may prescribe or order your diet for you. This diet has been selected in order to alter or assist with your medical condition and is called a therapeutic diet. You may have the chance to also talk about your food preferences and food allergies to either a Nutritionist or a Registered Dietitian. Typically, a Registered Dietitian conducts an assessment with you and make recommendations on a appropriate diet.

Types of Therapeutic Diets

If you are among the lucky, your medical condition rates you a tray of food on the regular diet. A Regular Diet consists of no excluded foods, usually unlimited portion size and the calorie count of the diet is based on whatever is ordered. The regular diet is also called a normal diet or house diet.

Therapeutic diets are often classified by either the amount of calories, whether they are designed to help with a specific disease or by consistency. An example of a Calorie-Based Diet would be one for weight loss or possible diabetes management. A common diet with limited calories would be 1800 Calories/No Concentrated Sweets. A diet to help a specific medical conditionsuch as for those with kidney issues would be called a Renal Diet and might restrict proteins among other things.

The classification system of therapeutic diets that we see most frequently are those that are based on modifying or changing the consistency of diet items based on what the patient can tolerate.

Examples of Modified Consistency Therapeutic Diets

Surprisingly, most of us have been on one or more of these modified consistency diets at some point in our lives as we recovered from an illness. That is exactly the purpose of a modified consistency therapeutic diet: to slowly bring a person and their body system through stages to health.

  • Clear Liquid Diet. The lowest end of the consistency scale and the easiest for our bodies to tolerate would be the Clear Liquid Diet, which would include broth, juices, or popsicles.
  • Full Liquid Diet.The next step up from a clear regime would be a Full Liquid Diet, which encompasses all the clear items plus things like milk, puddings and custard.
  • Soft Diet.The Soft Diet category, which is sometimes called a bland diet, adds in foods like cooked vegetables and fruits, bananas, melon and eggs. There is also a special Soft Diet called Mechanical Soft Diet where these same soft foods are cut up or chopped into easy to chew and digest pieces.
  • Puree Diet.There is also a diet called Puree Diet, which consists of any food item that is liquefied in a blender to a certain consistency.

When a diet is recommended or prescribed for you, be sure to ask for details on what you can and can't eat. Usually in a health care setting, a tray comes to you containing all the right food combinations for each meal. You may get the chance to pre-select menu items ahead, all within your specific diet. And for caregivers, please support your loved one by not eating tempting food in front of them or helping them cheat on their prescribed diet. It may taste good for the moment but could cause serious setbacks.

Still looking for the friendly yellow arches of your favorite fast food place in this health care setting? Keep looking. I mean that literally as some of the larger hospital settings have partnered with fast food chains to have a branch location in their lobby.

Grabbing a cup of coffee can be a welcomed relief on your way home after a long day of visiting.