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Diet Adaptations & Alternative Feeding Methods

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Instructor: Sarah Lawson

Sarah has taught nursing courses and has a master's degree in nursing education.

When a person makes a change to their diet, this is known as a diet adaptation. Explore the various diet adaptations and other alternative feeding methods, including some medical reasons for why they are used. Updated: 11/05/2021

What is Diet Adaptation?

A diet adaptation is when a person changes their diet. This includes modifying the diet because of a medical condition or in preparation for a procedure or surgery. This is most often necessary for certain medical procedures. For example, a doctor may have a patient start a clear liquid diet before a colonoscopy, which is a procedure that looks inside the colon using a camera called a colonoscope.

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  • 0:02 What is Diet Adaptation?
  • 0:27 Types
  • 4:00 Alternative Feeding Methods
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Types of Diet Adaptations

A clear liquid diet is a diet that consists only of clear liquids and leaves no undigested residue in the intestinal tract. Doctors may also start patients on this diet after surgeries or if a patient has digestive issues like nausea or diarrhea. Patients cannot stay on this diet for more than a few days because it does not meet caloric or nutritional needs. On a clear liquid diet, a patient is allowed to consume the following:

  • Water
  • Fruit juice without pulp
  • Fruit flavored drinks, such as punch or lemonade
  • Sodas (including dark colored soda)
  • Plain tea or coffee
  • Vegetable juices
  • Broths
  • Sports drinks
  • Gelatin
  • Honey or sugar
  • Hard candies
  • Ice pops (without dairy or pieces of fruit)

A full liquid diet is similar to a clear liquid diet, but less restrictive. On a full liquid diet, a patient can have any food or drink that is a liquid at room temperature. This means that, in addition to everything on the clear liquid diet, a person can also eat:

  • Milks, including cow's, and alternative milk options ,such as almond or soy
  • Pureed soups
  • Ice cream
  • Yogurt without fruit
  • Cooked cereals thinned with milk or water
  • Eggs as a soft custard
  • Pudding
  • Syrup
  • Melted cheese

This diet is used as a middle step between a clear liquid diet and a soft diet. After certain surgeries or procedures, some patients will need to slowly add foods back into their diet. A full liquid diet is useful in this situation because it allows the patient more options, calories and protein without over-working the patient's digestive system.

A soft diet is a low residue and low fiber diet consisting of only soft, easily-digestible foods. Patients on this diet have many more food options than on liquid diets. In addition to foods allowed on the liquid diets, patients are also able to eat:

  • Soft-cooked or creamed vegetables, such as mashed potatoes or creamed corn
  • Peeled, soft fruits, such as pears or peaches
  • Melons
  • Pastas
  • Rice with sauces or gravy
  • Breads
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Soft meats, such as meatloaf or fish
  • Cakes
  • Cream pies
  • Custards
  • Smoothies

There are two types of soft diets: A mechanical soft diet is designed for people who have difficulty ingesting food, such as elderly people with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. Cancer patients who have mouth tenderness can benefit from a mechanical soft diet.

A gastrointestinal (GI) soft diet is for people who are transitioning from a liquid diet to a regular diet. This may be necessary for patients recovering from major surgeries or who suffer GI conditions such as diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. A GI soft diet focuses more on ways to reduce irritation and inflammation to allow the GI tract to heal. Because of this, some foods that are known to cause irritation may not be allowed, such as tomato products, spicy foods or foods high in fat. The soft diet provides enough calories, protein and nutritional needs so patients can remain on this diet long term if needed.

Alternative Feeding Methods

Some patients who are unable to meet nutritional needs orally will need alternative feeding methods. This means they will need to receive feedings from a tube. There are two different methods to receive tube feedings. The first is called a gavage, which is a tube that is inserted through the nose or mouth and extends into the stomach.

The second is a gastrostomy, a tube that is surgically placed through the abdomen directly into their GI tract. Since a gastrostomy is surgically placed, it is intended for patients who will need tube feedings for a longer period of time.

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