Purees, Thickeners, & Thickened Foods Buying Guide

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Wed May 15 2024.

Couple drinking smoothies.

Many older adults and people with disabilities experience chewing and swallowing difficulties. These problems are common but can prevent good nutrition. Purees, thickeners, and thickened foods make mealtimes easier. They change the consistency of food and drink, so swallowing is easier. Thickeners can also reduce the risk of side effects like choking and aspiration.

How Do I Know If I Need Purees, Thickeners, or Thickened Foods?

Purees, thickeners, and thickened foods support people who can’t chew and/or swallow safely. These products can be helpful if you or your loved one have:

  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

  • Age-related swallowing problems (for example, muscle weakness)

  • Head or neck cancer

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • A narrow esophagus

  • Cancer

  • Neurological disorders that affect muscle control, like Multiple Sclerosis

Sometimes, purees, thickeners, and thickened foods are recommended by health care providers to folks with missing teeth and/or dentures, because they’re easier to chew.

Purees, Thickeners, and Thickened Foods: How Do I Choose?

Choosing purees, thickeners, or thickened foods that align with your or your loved one’s needs can be difficult. Especially if you don’t know what to look for. Luckily, following a few simple guidelines can help. Ramit Singh Sambyal, MD, an emergency medicine physician who regularly helps patients with dysphagia management, says to focus on three things:

Taste and Texture

“Prioritize your loved one’s preferences,” Dr. Sambyal says. “Experiment with different brands and flavors to find palatable options.” 

Nutritional Value

“Choose enriched foods or add nutrient powders to ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake,” Dr. Samybal explains. Many of the pureed foods we carry at Carewell are formulated to provide balanced nutrition. 

Consistency

“Opt for purees that have smooth textures,” Dr. Sambyal says. “Pureed foods with lumps and fibers can pose choking hazards,” so texture is key. If you notice a puree is chunky, put it in the blender or add water to smooth it out. 

Thickness Levels: Understanding Nectar, Honey, and Pudding

Thickened foods and purees come in three consistencies: nectar, honey, and pudding. The type that’s best for you or your loved one depends on swallowing difficulty severity. 

Nectar-Thick Purees

“These purees have a thin, liquid-like consistency, similar to watered-down honey,” Dr. Sambyal says. “They’re ideal for those who only need minimal thickening to swallow safely.” 

Honey-Thick Purees

“These purees are slightly thicker than nectar, similar to applesauce,” Dr. Sambyal says. “They’re suitable for people with moderate swallowing difficulties.”

Pudding-Thick Purees

“These purees are thick and can be scooped with a spoon,” explains Dr. Sambyal. “They have a consistency like mashed potatoes and are best for those with severe dysphagia.”

Purees, Thickeners, and Thickened Foods: Product Types

Pureed Meals & Sides

Pureed meals and sides have a smooth, lump-free texture, making them easy to swallow. And, since the food is already broken down, the user doesn’t have to do much (if any) chewing. Some family caregivers choose to make homemade purees, but this can take up time and energy. Prepacked purees provide a warm, ready-to-eat meal in minutes!

Best For:

  • People with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

  • Those with dentures and/or missing teeth

  • People who are too frail or sick to chew

The pureed meals and sides Carewell stocks contain plenty of calories, fats, and protein to ensure balanced nutrition.

Shop Pureed Meals & Sides

Thickened Water & Juices

Thickened liquids, like thick water and thick juice, have a honey-like consistency that makes them easier to swallow. The smooth, thickened texture helps the liquid glide effortlessly down the throat, preventing choking and other complications. 

Since dysphagia increases the risk of dehydration, thick liquids can be a boon to you or your loved one’s health. They provide a safe, effective way to maintain hydration, without risking a trip to the emergency room.

Best For:

  • People with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

  • People with esophageal problems (for example, acid reflux and esophagitis)

  • People with thyroid nodules

  • Folks recovering from stroke and spinal cord injuries

Family caregivers tell us that thick water helps keep loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia hydrated.

Shop Thick Water & Juices 

Food & Beverage Thickeners

Food and beverage thickeners are powders or liquids added to food or drinks. They contain ingredients like modified cornstarch, xanthan gum, and maltodextrin which increase the viscosity (or thickness) of the liquids within. 

If you want to make pureed foods and/or thick water at home, food and beverage thickeners provide the resources to do so. This can save you money and make it easier to prepare foods and drinks to your loved one’s preferred consistency.

Best For:

  • Caregivers who prepare pureed foods at home

  • Those who provide care for loved ones with specific textural or consistency needs

  • Those who want to thicken food or beverages in bulk

Shop Food & Beverage Thickeners

Pudding & Gelatin

Snacktime is particularly challenging if your loved one has difficulty swallowing. They need to eat when hungry, but you don’t want them to choke either. Enter pudding and gelatin. These snackable treats come in single-serving sizes and have a smooth, thick consistency that goes down easily.

Best For:

  • Caregivers who want an easy, no-hassle snack

  • People with swallowing difficulties

  • Those recovering from medical procedures, like surgery

Shop Pudding & Gelatin

Have Questions About Purees, Thickeners, or Thickened Foods? Contact Us!

If this is your first time buying purees and thickening agents, you probably have questions. Caregiving has a steep learning curve, but we’re committed to making your job easier! The knowledgeable caregiving specialists who make up our Care Team are here to help. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com. We’re happy to make product recommendations or provide tips and insights. Get in touch today. 

Purees, Thickeners, & Thickened Foods - Commonly Asked Questions

1) What is dysphagia?

“Dysphagia is a condition characterized by challenges swallowing food and beverages,” Dr. Sambyal says. “It can be likened to the sensation of trying to drink through a straw obstructed by ice. Swallowing difficulties can arise in people of any age, stemming from various conditions, such as stroke, head injuries, neurological disorders, or the natural process of aging.” 

2) How do purees and thickeners help with swallowing?

“Think of saliva as nature’s lubricant for swallowing. In cases of dysphagia, this lubrication may be inadequate,” Dr. Sambyal explains. “Purees and food and drink thickeners work by making chewed-up food easier to swallow. It’s akin to applying oil to a squeaky hinge, facilitating smoother movement.” 

3) What can caregivers do to reduce the risk of choking?

If your loved one has difficulty swallowing, Dr. Sambyal says there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of choking, including:

  • Positioning: Ensure your loved one sits up straight during meals with their head slightly tilted forward.

  • Small bites: Encourage small, controlled mouthfuls and thorough chewing when possible. In other words, don’t rush feeding. Take your time. 

  • Minimize distractions: Turn off the TV, radio, and other distractions during meals. This makes it easier for your loved one to focus on swallowing.

  • Thickening consistency: Make sure the purees and/or thickened foods and drinks you serve match your loved one’s swallowing ability.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.