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What are Food & Drink Thickeners?

Written by Chad Birt on Tue Jan 19 2021.

If you care for a loved one with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), one question is probably top-of-mind: What are food and drink thickeners?

What might seem like a lack of appetite or disinterest in eating could be due to pain or a sensitive gag reflex. Thickening agents can help make mealtimes pleasurable again while lowering the risk of choking.

In this blog, we’ll discuss food, drink, and liquid thickeners in depth, including what they are, who can benefit from them, and where to buy them.

This article will answer the following questions:

What are food and drink thickeners?

Food, drink, and liquid thickeners are starch or gel-based additives that make fluids and edibles easier to swallow. They decrease the flow rate of thin liquids, preventing them from getting into your loved one’s airways.

If food or liquid “goes down the wrong pipe” and enters the lungs, it presents serious risks, including coughing, choking, or aspiration pneumonia. Food, drink, and liquid thickeners allow foods and beverages to move slowly down the throat and into the digestive system.

People with dysphagia typically have to eat a special diet consisting of thick liquids. Thick liquids fall into three categories. Each varies in consistency:

1. Nectar thick liquids are easy to pour and have a creamy, soup-like consistency.

2. Honey thick liquids are more difficult to pour. You drizzle them into a food or beverage.

3. Spoon thick liquids don’t pour. They hold their shape and have a pudding-like consistency.

RelatedWhat is Thick Water?

Who are food and drink thickeners for?

Food and drink thickeners are typically recommended for people with swallowing disorders. Swallowing disorders affect people of all ages, but they’re especially common in the elderly. As you get older, the muscles in your pharynx and esophagus begin losing tone. Over time, this loss of muscle strength can negatively affect your ability to swallow, resulting in dysphagia.

In addition, food and drink thickeners can benefit individuals living with chronic diseases, including:

  • Parkinson’s 

  • Dementia

  • Reflux disease

  • Stroke

  • Spinal cord injury

Those receiving cancer treatment can also benefit. This is particularly true if your loved one has head, neck, or throat cancer.

Are thickening agents for dysphagia safe?

Food, drink, and liquid thickeners are safe and typically well-tolerated. The majority of thickening agents on the market consist of gel, powder, or other all-natural ingredients and present no side effects. 

Some people—especially those with dementia or other cognitive ailments—may refuse to consume thickened products. As a result, it’s important to find a brand (and consistency) that your senior likes and enjoys the taste of.

Where can I buy thickening agents?

You can buy thickening agents at most pharmacies, groceries, and big-box retailers. We also carry a number of thickening agents right here on the Carewell site. 

Below, we’ve highlighted some of our most popular food, drink, and liquid thickeners:

Thick-It® Food & Drink Thickener

Thick-It debuted in 1987 as the very first nutritional food-thickening product on the market. It’s cornstarch-based, easy to use, and quickly dissolves into most liquids, including juice, coffee, tea, or milk.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Doesn’t affect the appearance or taste of the foods or beverages it’s mixed with

  • Entirely flavorless

  • Safe for use in hot or cold foods or beverages

  • Easily digestible

  • Kosher Parve

  • Gluten-free

Resource® ThickenUp Food and Beverage Thickener

Resource ThickenUp is specifically formulated for people with dysphagia. It’s suitable for use within the IDDSI Framework (The International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative 2016) and its consistency meets National Dysphagia Diet (NDD) standards. Once mixed into food or a beverage, ThickenUp provides a honey or pudding-like consistency.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Clinically proven to reduce the risk of aspiration

  • Entirely flavorless

  • Easy to mix 

  • Safe for people on low-residue, kosher, or lactose intolerant diets

SimplyThick® EasyMix™ Food and Beverage

SimplyThick EasyMix is a gel thickener. Its unique formulation ensures the agent doesn’t collect or clump together, allowing for optimal food or beverage consistency. SimplyThick doesn’t respond to amylase, an enzyme found in saliva. As a result, it encourages better digestion and maximum nutrient uptake.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Takes just seconds to prepare and mix

  • Stable and fully hydrated

  • Doesn’t continue to thicken after mixing (like some powders do)

  • You can thicken foods or beverages long before they’re served

Thick & Easy® Thickened Beverage in Nectar Consistency

Is your loved one tired of drinking thick water? If so, add some flavor into the mix with the Thick & Easy thickened beverage line. Thickened beverages come in several flavors, including apple juice, kiwi strawberry, cranberry, and iced tea. They meet IDDI guidelines for Level 2 beverages, meaning each drink has a nectar-like consistency. 

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Specifically designed for people with certain types of dysphagia

  • Packed with vitamin C, which can support the immune system

  • Provides extra hydration

  • Allows people with dysphagia to enjoy their favorite drinks

Can I make food and drink thickeners at home?

If you don’t want to use an artificial thickening agent, it’s possible to change the consistency of foods and beverages at home. The ingredients you’ll need depend on the temperature and consistency of whatever it is that you’re preparing.

Here are a few suggestions from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to help you get started:

  • For cold foods and beverages, add dry banana flakes, pureed fruit, or plain gelatin

  • For hot soups, sauces, or gravies, add potato flakes, mashed potatoes, or flaked baby cereal

  • For hot, milk-based liquids add baby rice cereal or plain gelatin

To ensure the thickening agent binds with the liquid, use a blender and mix until you achieve the desired consistency.

What if I have additional questions about food, drink, and l liquid thickeners?

Food, drink, and liquid thickeners are affordable, easy to use, and can help your loved one enjoy mealtimes again. If you’re still unsure what type of thickening agent will best meet your needs, get in touch with our friendly Care Team. A brief call to our customer support line can save you hours of research and hassle. You can reach us at (855) 855-1666 or via email by sending a message to support@carewell.com.

ReadNutrition Drinks for Adults and Seniors for 2021: Top Picks

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Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C 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.