How Chefs Can Help People Living with Dysphagia
Dysphagia is the medical term for a difficulty in swallowing safely and effectively. It can affect people of all ages from birth to old age. It has a significant impact on quality of life, not only for the person with dysphagia but also for the family and carers who are supporting them. Culturally
food brings people together where they share social and emotional connection. When there is a difficulty swallowing it can lead to embarrassment, social avoidance and isolation with a negative impact on mental health: dysphagia can take away a person’s dignity.
Eating with Dignity www.eatingwithdignity.org is a charity founded in 2012 by healthcare professionals who recognise and wish to promote the importance of good food for wellbeing at all stages of life; particularly when there are swallowing difficulties involved. The aim of Eating with Dignity is to increase awareness and give some choice, sensory quality and, hopefully, enjoyment to people at times in their lives where there may be little pleasure.
We were delighted to be supported by The Chefs’ Forum and hosted by Exeter Cookery School for a market research focus group to discuss dysphagia, including people living with dysphagia, chefs and medical experts. Through our research with chefs, we have uncovered a huge gap in knowledge of what dysphagia means, who might present with dysphagia and the different food levels for dysphagia known as international dysphagia diet standardisation initiative (IDDSI). Chefs agreed that with education there is no reason why they can’t include dysphagia-friendly options to their existing menus to be inclusive of all members of our society: after all it’s ‘real food for real people’.
Chefs, you have the expertise, skill and creativity to improve standards of food offered to society’s most vulnerable diners; those with dysphagia. Our best hope for this project is to form a collaboration and educate as to why some people require food prepared to IDDSI standards www.iddsi.org and reduce the risk of possible choking or swallowing complications. We encourage all chefs to have a look at IDDSI and be creative: devise safe to swallow, tasty, appetising and eye-watering dishes for all food levels 3-7. We are happy to promote restaurants/chefs and share great food and new ideas (send your photos or recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org). In time we would like all restaurants to make their menus inclusive. People with dysphagia should feel as confident as those with food allergies and other dietary requirements, to eat out, socialise with friends & family, enjoy good food and ultimately eat with dignity.