A mechanical soft diet is meant for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties such as dysphagia.

People on this diet eat foods that have been broken down into smaller pieces or are softer, because these foods are easier and safer to eat.

If you’ve been prescribed a mechanical soft diet or know someone who has, you may be curious about what it entails and whether it’s healthy and safe.

This article tells you all you need to know about a mechanical soft diet, who it’s for, its benefits, and some safety considerations.

Cubed firm tofu can be enjoyed on a mechanical soft diet.Share on Pinterest
Nataša Mandić/Stocksy United

A mechanical soft diet is a texture-modified diet that restricts foods that are difficult to chew or swallow. It’s considered Level 2 of the National Dysphagia Diet in the United States (1, 2).

Foods can be pureed, finely chopped, blended, or ground to make them smaller, softer, and easier to chew. It differs from a pureed diet, which includes foods that require no chewing (3).

The goal of the diet is to make foods safer and help a person meet their nutritional needs. It is not intended as a weight loss diet. Most foods are allowed on the diet as long as they can be safely consumed (3).

You can prepare foods at home or buy premade meals that are suitable for a mechanical soft diet.

As of 2015, the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) offers guidelines that provide in-depth recommendations and levels based on various medical conditions and risk of choking. These levels are (4):

  • Levels 1–3 (varying liquid consistencies)
  • Level 4 (pureed food)
  • Level 5 (minced and moist food)
  • Level 6 (soft and bite-size food)
  • Level 7 (easy-to-chew food)

A mechanical soft diet would be considered level 5 (minced and moist), according to the IDDSI guidelines. However, some variations of the diet exist. You can discuss the specifics with a healthcare professional if they have prescribed this type of diet for you (2, 4).

Summary

A mechanical soft diet is a type of texture-modified diet for people who have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Foods may be pureed, ground, finely chopped, or blended to make eating safer.

A medical professional, such as a registered dietitian, may prescribe a mechanical soft diet for you if you (5, 6):

  • have difficulty chewing (e.g., poorly fitting dentures, missing teeth, recovering from dental or mouth surgery, general weakness)
  • have difficulty swallowing (e.g., dysphagia; recovering from mouth, neck, or throat surgery; general weakness)
  • are undergoing radiation therapy for your head, neck, or stomach area, which may lead to digestive upset or pain in your mouth or throat
  • were previously on a liquid diet after surgery or long-term illness and are gradually reintroducing solid foods
  • have trouble moving or feeling portions of your mouth (such as your tongue or lips)

Depending on your situation, a healthcare professional may prescribe a mechanical soft diet temporarily, for a few days or weeks. In other cases, such as for those with dysphagia, they may prescribe it long-term.

Unless a healthcare professional recommends it, most people do not need to follow a mechanical soft diet.

Summary

A healthcare professional may prescribe a mechanical soft diet if you have difficulty chewing or swallowing food safely due to dysphagia, recovering from surgery, general weakness, or an oral health issue (e.g., poorly fitting dentures, missing teeth).

As long as a food makes chewing and swallowing safer and easier, it can be included in the diet. Examples of permitted foods include:

  • Fruits and vegetables: likely to require peeling, fine chopping, mashing, cooking, and/or blending to be safe to eat, although some vegetables (such as avocado) are soft enough to eat as is
  • Grains: hot cereals (oatmeal, porridge, grits, and Cream of Wheat), soft bread (avoid toasting it), finely cut pasta, cooked rice, refined grains (e.g., white breads), and similar foods
  • Meat, poultry, fish: tender meats (e.g., canned tuna, ground beef), thinly shaved meat, and other meats that have been mechanically altered (but always remove the fat and gristle from meat cuts, since they may be difficult to chew)
  • Dairy: milk, powdered milk, cottage cheese, soft cheeses, grated and shredded cheeses, yogurt, ice cream, and other soft dairy products
  • Eggs: most cooking methods acceptable — but if eating boiled eggs, ensure they’re chopped finely or mashed, as in egg salad
  • Plant-based proteins: tofu (silken, regular, firm), cooked beans, pureed beans, soy milk, hummus, peanut butter, and other products
  • Fats: butter, margarine, and all plant-based oils (e.g., olive, sesame, coconut)
  • Desserts: any soft cake, pastry, cookie, or other dessert (e.g., custard, ice cream, Jell-O) that does not contain nuts, candy, fruit, or other hard pieces of food
  • Other foods: protein powders (whey or plant-based), liquid nutritional supplements (e.g., Ensure, Boost), casseroles, soups without large pieces of meat, jams without seeds, broth, gravy, sauces, condiments, and other products
  • Beverages: all beverages (including juices with pulp), except for any that contain solid food pieces

Foods should not be difficult to chew or easily get stuck in the teeth, such as caramel. For meat products, use moist-heat cooking methods like stewing, slow-cooking, or boiling to increase tenderness.

Further, foods that require cutting or chopping should be cut into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) (7).

While most people can tolerate the foods mentioned above, some people may need to avoid certain foods according to the advice of a healthcare professional.

Summary

Foods included in the mechanical soft diet must be soft and small and require minimal chewing.

Some foods are considered unsafe and unsuitable for a mechanical soft diet. These may include:

  • Fruits and vegetables: raw or stir-fried vegetables, fruit with seeds or pits, unpeeled fruit and vegetables, dried fruit (e.g., raisins, apricots), whole fruits (e.g., grapes, olives), corn on the cob, raw coconut, and fried vegetables (e.g., french fries)
  • Grains: hard or crunchy bread (e.g., sourdough, pumpernickel, rye), toast, buckwheat (kasha), egg noodles, garlic bread, granola, muesli, crackers, melba toast, shredded wheat, undercooked pasta, popcorn, hard taco shells, and others
  • Meats, poultry, fish: hard cuts of meat (e.g., steak, jerky, pork chops), meats or poultry with the bone (e.g., chicken wings), hot dogs, sausage, shellfish, fried meat or fish, and others
  • Dairy: hard cheeses (e.g., cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss), soft cheeses with dried fruit or nuts, and more
  • Plant-based proteins: nuts, seeds, extra-firm tofu, seitan, crunchy peanut butter, and others
  • Desserts: chips, pretzels, popcorn, candy, hard cookies, licorice, any sticky dessert (e.g., caramel. taffy), candied nuts, pie crust, and more
  • Other foods: jams with seeds (e.g., raspberry jam), gum, marshmallows, any foods that cannot be mechanically altered, etc.

If you’re unsure whether a food is safe to eat, speak with a healthcare professional who specializes in mechanical soft diets, such as a registered dietitian.

Summary

If you’re on a mechanical soft diet, you should avoid any foods that are hard, large, or difficult to chew or cannot be mechanically altered to become softer or smaller.

Most of the benefits of a mechanical soft diet come from the ability to safely consume food.

People who have certain conditions or are unable to easily chew and swallow may not be able to meet their nutritional needs due to their troubles chewing and swallowing, a lack of energy, or other reasons (8).

Thus, a mechanical soft diet can help a person eat healthy foods without the risk of choking. It’s also helpful for people who are very weak or lack energy, as chewing and swallowing may be exhausting to them (7, 8).

Further, it can create a sense of comfort, safety, and autonomy for those who are at risk of choking. These are important factors in preventing malnutrition, which is highly prevalent in people requiring texture-modified diets (7, 8, 9, 10).

Finally, a mechanical soft diet can help a person restore their health as they heal from illness or surgery and act as a segue between a liquid and solid food diet (7, 8).

Summary

Mechanical soft diets make eating safer and easier for those who have difficulty chewing and swallowing.

If you have been prescribed a mechanical soft diet, here are some helpful tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

Use the right tools

Having the right kitchen tools can help speed up food preparation. Some tools you may want to use are:

  • sharp kitchen knives (e.g., chef’s knife)
  • a blender or mini blender (e.g., NutriBullet, Magic Bullet)
  • an immersion blender
  • a food processor
  • a mesh strainer (allows you to strain fruits and vegetables)
  • a food grinder (e.g., baby food grinder)

Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to use smaller appliances (such as a mini blender or immersion blender) to prepare single-serving dishes.

Alternatively, you can prepare large batches to eat throughout the week.

Food safety

When preparing foods, ensure that you’re practicing food safety.

This includes washing your hands, avoiding cross contamination, cooking foods to their proper temperatures, and storing foods in the refrigerator or freezer.

Additionally, ensure all equipment is properly cleaned and sanitized before and after use.

Plan ahead

If you know you will be eating out at a restaurant or at an event, it’s important to plan ahead.

When eating at a restaurant, you can ask the manager or chef to prepare foods for your needs. In many cases, they will happily puree or finely chop food items to ensure they are safe for you. You may also want to request additional sauce or gravy to help moisten food.

If you’re going to an event, ask the host ahead of time which foods will be available and if you can use their blender, food processor, or other equipment as needed. If those tools won’t be available to you, ask if you may bring your own.

Otherwise, you may want to bring your own meals and heat them in a microwave if you need to.

Work with a healthcare professional

If you’re going to be on a mechanical soft diet for longer than a few days, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional who specializes in this diet to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs (6).

Most hospitals and healthcare centers will have a registered dietitian or speech language pathologist who can answer your questions and help guide you.

In some cases, they may also recommend supplements to ensure you’re getting the right nutrients.

Other tips

Here are some other helpful tips (6):

  • If you’re unsure whether a food is the right consistency, ask a friend or family member to try it first.
  • Make sure you’re drinking liquids to keep your mouth moist, which helps with chewing and swallowing, and to prevent dehydration.
  • If you’re feeling unwell or too weak to prepare your meal, ask a friend or family member to help. If this isn’t possible, it may be a good idea to have premade, microwavable meals available.
  • For additional nutrition, try adding protein powder, milk, nutritional powders, or other calorie- or protein-rich ingredients to smoothies, yogurts, beverages, soups, or other foods.
Summary

By planning ahead, you can ensure that you’re eating the right foods that are safe for you.

If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing, you may be prescribed a mechanical soft diet. It includes foods that are soft and small and require minimal chewing.

This diet helps make eating safer for those who may otherwise struggle to chew or swallow foods, such as those who have dysphagia or oral health issues (e.g., poorly fitting dentures, missing teeth) or are recovering from surgery. It’s not meant as a weight loss diet.

Most foods are allowed on the diet as long as they can be mechanically altered (pureed, blended, or finely chopped) or are already soft enough to consume with minimal chewing.