Dysphagia, Rice flour, and You
What is Dysphagia?
People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing and may even experience odynophagia, which is extreme pain and spasms while swallowing. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble safely swallowing specific liquids, foods, or their own saliva. When that happens, getting enough calories to nourish the body can become a serious medical problem. (Resource)
Who needs a Dysphagia Diet?
The causes of dysphagia are still not fully understood, but it happens most frequently in older adults. Conditions that damage and then weaken muscles and nerves used for swallowing are considered the likely reason. Diseases of the nervous system, strokes, or head injuries that limit sensation in the mouth and throat and thereby affect the coordination of muscles used for swallowing. Infants born with abnormalities of the swallowing mechanisms or a cleft palate (opening in the roof of the mouth) are unable to suck properly which makes nursing and use of baby bottles a challenge. (Resource)
Additionally, head, neck, and esophageal cancers, or injuries and infections that cause a narrowing of the esophagus, or their treatments, may cause dysphagia. Lastly, people who develop cognitive decline, memory loss and dementia often experience difficulty chewing and swallowing that can lead to dysphagia. (Resource)
A Dysphagia Diet is recommended for people who have difficulty swallowing. Foods on this diet are easier to chew and move around in your mouth, reducing the risk of choking in the esophagus and aspiration into the lungs. Food or liquid that goes into your airway instead of your stomach puts you at risk for malnutrition and pneumonia . (Resource)
What is Dysphagia?Why is Rice Flour a great choice for Dysphagia Diets?
Many foods made with rice flour meet the three conditions of something called “alimentary bolus” (a mass of chewed food that is ready to be passed to the stomach): it is not sticky, easily chewed in the mouth, and is moderately soft on the palate. Rice flour is uniquely able to thicken solids and jellify water just right, making meals for people who suffer from dysphagia easier and safer. (Resource)(Resource)(Resource)
The decreased particle size of rice flour and its subsequent rehydration with water through food-making meets the “not sticky” part of the requirement. Mastication or easily chewed is achieved because these foods do not resist the cleaving motion of our teeth. Finally, foods prepared with rice flour are known for easily melting in the oral cavity where they trigger a comfortable swallowing response. (Resource)
Foods that are on “mechanical soft diets” (any foods that can be blended, mashed, pureed, or chopped using a knife, a grinder, a blender, or a food processor) are all made of moist and soft textures, and many of those can be made with rice flour. (Resource)
How does Japan lead the way in Dysphagia Diets?
Have you ever noticed how some cooked rice grains are much softer than others? The variance in texture is due to a crystalline component in rice starch called amylose. The National Research Organization (NARO), the official research and development institute in Japan for agriculture and food, states that rice containing more than 25% amylose is considered high-amylose. (Resource) While everyone has their own preference for rice, cooked high-amylose rice is firm and fluffy instead of sticky. The extra stiffness is not only great for helping breads and pasta made with it firmer and less sticky, it also creates a jelly-like mouth feel that reduces the effects of dysphagia. (Resource)
It is also worth noting that high-amylose rice products are slower to digest and provide more nutritional benefits, making it ideal for use in cooking, maintaining a healthy diet, while also aiding in the treatment of swallowing disorders. (Resource)