Tyrone Burke, November 11, 2020

Improving Purée-Based Foods Can Help COVID-19 Patients Who Have Difficulty Swallowing

COVID-19’s vast array of symptoms has vexed health care professionals. Among the disease’s many symptoms is dysphagia – or difficulty swallowing.  This condition can prevent COVID-19 patients from eating, and getting the nutrients that they need to boost their immune system. Dysphagia is especially common among patients who have been intubated on a ventilator, and elderly people are particularly vulnerable to its effects.

Puree-based foods can help – but they have their own set challenges. Too thick, and some patients can’t swallow. Too runny, and they can choke. For Orleans-based food processing company Apetito HFS, this created a challenge. The company makes foods for health care providers across Canada, and after their puree-based chicken soup was frozen, it became too runny for patients suffering from dysphagia.

That’s where Farah Hosseinian comes in. The Professor in Carleton’s Department of Chemistry is working with Apetito HFS to get the consistency of their food products just right.

Farah Hosseinian, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry (Food Science) and Institute of Biochemistry

“We’re modifying HFS’ puree formulations with high power, low-frequency ultrasound to optimize their texture, consistency, and stability,” says Hosseinian.

Hosseinian will then use response surface methodology (RSM) – a series of experiments designed to determine the optimal combination of these factors.

Hosseinian has received a NSERC Alliance Grant for the research, and will also be also experimenting with how adding selective enzymes to puree-based food products could help address some of the root causes of dysphagia.

“Elderly people can produce too much of an enzyme that younger people do not,” says Hosseinian. “That can cause poor oral health, and we know that having poor oral health is not good for COVID-19 patients. So, if you can improve a patient’s food, then you can improve their oral health, and you are helping that patient.”

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