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Soft food diet

Foods to eat and foods to avoid

Learn about soft food diets recommended by medical professionals for patient recovery and illness.

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Soft food diet: Foods to eat and foods to avoid
Last updated on December 14, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on August 20, 2023.

A soft food diet can aid recovery after surgeries or illnesses by providing gentle, easy-to-digest meals. It’s best to opt for mellow, tender foods and avoid spicy or tough ones. Once fully healed, you can return to your usual diet.

Soft food diet: Foods to eat and foods to avoid

Healthcare providers often recommend specific diets to aid recovery from certain medical conditions or procedures.

Among these, the soft food diet is popular. It focuses on foods that are gentle on the digestive system and easy to chew.

If you’re advised to follow a soft diet, you might be curious about the foods to include and avoid and the reasons behind the recommendation.

This guide offers a comprehensive overview of the soft food diet.

In this article

What is a soft food diet, and why is it prescribed?

A soft food diet primarily comprises foods that are easy to chew and digest. It’s commonly recommended for individuals who struggle with regular textures or those sensitive to spicy foods.

Medical professionals frequently suggest this diet for patients with specific health issues or post-surgery recovery.

Various settings, like hospitals, long-term care centers, and even homes, implement soft food diets. Typically, the diet lasts briefly, ranging from a few days to several weeks. However, in some cases, it might extend longer.

A significant application of the soft food diet treats swallowing issues, known as dysphagia. This condition is prevalent among the elderly and those battling neurological or neurodegenerative disorders.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics introduced the National Dysphagia Diet (NDD) in 2002. This diet encompasses various dysphagia diet levels to cater to different needs:

Although texture-modified diets reduce the risk of aspiration and pneumonia in people with dysphagia, current research suggests that modifying food texture may result in a worsened quality of life and undernutrition, highlighting the need for more research.

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In addition to dysphagia, soft diets are prescribed to people who have recently undergone mouth or jaw surgery that has affected their ability to chew.

For example, people who have undergone wisdom teeth removal, major jaw surgery, or dental implant surgery may need to follow a soft diet to promote healing.

Soft diets are also transitional between full liquid or puréed diets and regular diets in people who have undergone abdominal surgery or are recovering from gastrointestinal illness to allow the digestive system to heal more effectively.

Additionally, soft diets can be prescribed to people who are too weak to consume regular foods, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, and to people who have lost feeling in their face or mouth or can’t control their lips or tongue due to a stroke.

Although soft food diets used in both the clinical and home setting can vary, most that are used in the short term are low in fiber and bland to ease digestibility and the comfort of the person eating the diet.

Remember that some people have to be on soft food diets for longer periods. In these cases, the diet may be higher in fiber and more flavorful than soft diets used in the short term.

Summary: Soft diets consist of easily chewed and digested foods. They’re often prescribed to people with swallowing difficulties, those who have undergone abdominal surgery, and people with other medical issues.

Suitable foods for a soft food diet

While soft diets come into play when regular textures or spicy foods pose difficulties, it’s important to distinguish them from puréed diets. Puréed foods might be part of a soft diet, but a pure puréed diet is its own category.

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The main principle of a soft diet is to include foods that are not only soft but also effortless to consume and digest.

Here’s a list of foods commonly recommended for a soft diet:

Remember that there are different variations of soft food diets, depending on the condition they’re being used to treat. Some people with further restrictions may be unable to tolerate certain foods for various reasons.

Therefore, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if you’re following a soft diet and have questions about what foods you can eat.

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Summary: Cooked fruits and vegetables, easily chewable proteins, and soft starches can be enjoyed following a soft food diet.

Foods to avoid on a soft food diet

Many foods should be avoided when following a soft food diet. Hard-to-digest foods, as well as those that are tough to chew, should be restricted. Typically, spicy and very acidic foods are also off-limits.

The following foods are commonly restricted on soft diets:

Note that your healthcare provider may recommend further restrictions depending on your medical condition. It’s essential to have a good understanding of the prescribed diet and your individual dietary needs.

Summary: Foods that are difficult to chew and digest and spicy and acidic foods should typically be avoided when following a soft food diet.

Soft food diet meal and snack ideas

Following any restrictive diet can be frustrating, especially when many healthy foods like raw fruits and vegetables are off-limits.

Still, many tasty meal and snack options exist for those following soft diets.

Here are some ideas for meals that can be eaten by people following soft diets:

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Breakfast ideas

Lunch ideas

Dinner ideas

In addition to meals, many people following a soft diet may want to include one or more snacks throughout the day.

Some snack ideas include:

It’s important that all meals and snacks be as balanced as possible and include high-protein foods, especially for those who have recently undergone surgery or have higher nutrient needs, such as those with cancer.

Summary: It’s possible to consume healthy and tasty meals and snacks when following a soft diet. Meals and snacks should be nutrient-rich to promote healing and overall health.

Helpful tips for people on soft diets

Although consuming a diet consisting of only soft foods can be difficult, the following tips may make following such a diet easier:

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Typically, soft diets are used as transitional diets for short periods until a person is ready to start eating a regular-consistency diet again.

Your healthcare provider will give instructions on how long you should follow a soft food diet, while a registered dietitian can provide any other pertinent information.

If you have any questions or concerns about following a soft food diet or how to transition back to a regular-consistency diet, ask your medical provider for advice.

Summary: Choosing nutritious foods, focusing on protein, planning ahead, eating small meals frequently, and taking your time while eating are all smart tips for people following soft food diets.


Medical professionals often recommend soft food diets to aid recovery from surgeries or illnesses and simplify chewing and digestion.

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When on this diet, the emphasis should be on selecting soft, easy-to-digest foods, while steering clear of hard, spicy, or potentially irritating foods.

Adhering to a soft food diet might be challenging, but its primary goal is to enhance recovery. Therefore, it’s crucial to adhere to the guidelines given by your healthcare provider until you’re prepared to resume your standard diet.

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