The “Soft Diet” Blues

Last week I had two wisdom teeth pulled. Silly me, chose to stay awake for the procedure and now I think of torture scenes in movies when I remember seeing all the utensils the dentist used to pull and prod my teeth out of my jaw (shudder)…Don’t worry I’m not going to go into the details of staying awake during dental surgery, I’m here to talk about food…

Having your teeth pulled is a painful experience and it makes it really tough to chew foods. Luckily for me I only had the one side done (meaning I have to go back for round two in the future) so at least I could chew a bit. Despite this, I was advised to stay on a liquid/soft diet for at leat a few days after my surgery to limit chewing and prevent any food from getting stuck in the holes where my wisdom teeth once lived.

When you think of a liquid/soft diet you might get excited because who doesn’t love to eat ice cream, popsicles, apple sauce, smoothies and puddings all day long! And I was too for about the first day. I went out right after the dentist and got all the essentials: yogurt, frozen berries, pudding snack packs, a big tub of frozen yogurt and apple sauce. To add to this I wanted to make sure I got enough protein (important for wound healing) and some fibre (prevent constipation from T3s) so I added skim milk powder and wheat bran to my cart. I was all set and ready to induldge in tubs of ice cream and pudding.

And I must say, there was nothing I wanted more on the first day than foods I didn’t have to worry about opening my mounth too wide to eat (even talking hurt…) so I really enjoyed my pudding and ice cream. However, even by day 2 I was tired of the minimal mouth feel that pureed and liquid foods provided. I was especially bummed when my roommates invited me for a BBQ where I sat around watching everyone chew on steak while I ate my roasted mashed squash…I’m now on day 5 post wisdom teeth extraction and I’m starting to introduce a few foods that require more chewing like soft muffins and noodles in my chicken broth.

What my short experience on a pureed/soft diet provided me with was an appreciation for what persons with dyshpagia or any other chewing or swallowing impairments must go through when they have to live life on a restrictive diet. Working in the hospital on the Rehab unit (mostly patients recovering from strokes) I see a lot of patients on pureed diets with thickened liquids (imagine drinking water thickened to a honey consistency). Many of my patients are on this diet for the rest of their lives or at best for a month or two while their swallow improves enough to be upgraded to a different diet with more textures. Even some people living in residential care homes go the remainder of their lives being spoon fed pureed meat and mashed potatoes with thickened milk and water. It’s no wonder that many residents and patients choose to go against the advice of their doctors and health care providers and “eat at risk”.

I think it’s really important for any dietitian, speach language pathologist or health care worker to put themselves on modified textured diets to know what it feels like for their patients and clients when they ask them to live the rest of their lives eating this way. We take for granted the pleasure we get from biting into a crisp apple, chewing on crunchy mixed nuts or a medium rare steak. Think about the different textures on your plate next time you’re having dinner and how you would feel if you had to convert those to all one texture (think pureed steak with mashed potatoes and mashed peas…)

Should we Put Nutrition Facts on Restaurant Menus?

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Public Health Authorities are propsing to mandate that restaurants and fast food chains be required to post nutrition facts information (including calories and sodium) on their menus/menu boards. The reasoning behind this is that the growing number of Canadians being diagnosed with chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension can be linked to increased intake of restaurant and fast food meals. We all know that restaurant is usually laden with salt and fat; not to mention the large serving sizes leading us to overeat.

Sodium is a big player here as about 75% of our salt intake comes from ready made and processed foods rather than salt added in cooking and at the table.

Although I see a number of benefits to mandating that restaurants provide nutrition information on their menus I also see a number of cons.

Pros:

  • Canadians can make more informed decisions –> this is especially beneficial for those of us who eat out multiple times per week/day
  • By using nutrition information we can compare different foods and choose which times we want to indulge (save room for that warm chocolate brownie with vanilla gelato) and which times we want to choose the healthier option
  • Nutrition facts and ingredient lists are a great way to compare foods at the grocery store and choose the healthier option, so why not do it at White Spot?
  • If restaurants have to post nutrition information on menus they may be more inclined to provide healthier options
  • The United Sates is already doing it so why not us?

Cons:

  • Restaurants could start making lower calorie lower salt foods but at what cost? Would they start using artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated margarines to bring down sugar and fat content?
  • Could putting calories on menus promote eating disorders as people who weren’t thinking about calories start to be inundated with calorie content of foods?
  • What about those people who use menu labeling to choose foods higher in fat and calorie content (think of Man vs Food and youtube videos that promote eating large serving sizes of unhealthy foods)
  • Is my food going to be more expensive because restaurants have to spend money on gathering nutritional data on all menu items?
  • And finally, if I have finally decided to take a break from the kitchen and go out for a nice meal do I really have to feel guilty about wanting to finish off my rare restaurant meal with a big piece of Ultimate Chocolate Cake by knowing it has 1159 calories?

I think that in theory putting nutrition information on menus is a good thing especially if it makes consumers think twice about eating a cheeseburger twice in one week. I also think that it is beneficial for those who eat out several times a day/week because they can make more informed decisions (if they care to look at the nutrition information). I just worry about some of the negative effects and costs associated with this nutrition labeling. I think the information should be available in the form of brochures or pamphlets available somewhere within the restaurant/fast food joint for those that care to look.

What do you think about the idea of nutrition labelling? Would you want to see it in your favourite restaurants?