High calorie, low fat, low sugar, soft foods?
February 24, 2018 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I am struggling to get calories in right now and could use some suggestions.

I am constrained to foods that are:
- soft (can be easily mushed) or liquid;
- low fat
- lowish sugar (no straight-up sweets)
- able to be eaten slowly through the day (no big meals or portions)
- non-acidic, non-spicy

Basically, I need foods for a combo of extremely nasty reflux and esophagitis. My stomach is slow to empty right now, and that's not helping. I'm doing great at keeping to those kinds of foods, but I'm struggling to get more than ~600 calories in per day.

One option I am considering: I have protein powder. Are there high calorie smoothies I can make that will go down fast, and not be high in sugar? What other foods will pack a punch without coming back up?

Examples of things that seem soft but are off limits until things calm down: bread (can stick in throat easily), most meats, rice.

posted by moira to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I haven’t used them myself, but in the protein powder vein you can buy supplements called “mass gainers’ or similar which are basically super-high-calorie protein powders, designed for powerlifters in bulk cycles trying to eat 3500+ calories a day. For example, here’s one from a reputable brand with 1,200 (yes, over a thousand) calories per serving.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:53 PM on February 24, 2018

(Hit submit too early - basically you could make a smoothie with that and milk or water and drink it slowly over the course of a day or however long)
posted by Itaxpica at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2018

Best answer: So, low fat plus low sugar leaves protein plus fiber. Since protein and fiber tend to be lower in calories and your goal is to increase calories, try drinking nutritious calories throughout the day.
Low sugar protein powder comes in many varieties including pea, whey, egg white plus any other ingredients for flavoring that works for you - cocoa powder, berries (low-sugar for fruit).
Chicken broth either purchased low-fat or made at home with the fat lifted off the top after chilling. Adding collagen protein powder would add protein and thicken the feel if the broth is thin.
Hot tea can be blended with collagen protein powder.
posted by RoadScholar at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2018

Best answer: Congee., especially with a soft-cooked egg.
posted by crush at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Soup might be a way to go. Meat, rice, bread can be added to vegetables and turned into soup. So if you have a blender take another look how you can incorporate nutrient dense stuff by making soup. If you don’t have a blender I’d get one.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:00 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

How about a well-soaked baked french toast? You could make one and have it in the fridge. Heat up in microwave and add real maple syrup.
posted by beccaj at 3:07 PM on February 24, 2018

I've been dealing with this myself, for dental & gastric reasons. I'm not very fond of smoothies; so this is what I'm eating.

Steamed potatoes and steamed cauliflower, mashed together, with a bit milk to smooth them out. Then I make gravy from instant packets -- sodium, I know, but don't use much at a time, and the rest keeps in the fridge. I poach chicken breasts, and then dice them up very fine, and stir some into the vegetables, with enough gravy to make it mushy enough. If you want to up your protein, stir in high quality dry powdered milk. I'm also fond of plain yogurt with a bit of jam stirred into it.

My problem is getting enough protein and fiber. Needing more calories and not being able to tolerate fat is more difficult. I'd say try different oils and ways to include them, but who wants to experiment when you're not feeling so well in the first place?

Good luck. Hope you get some yummy suggestions here.
posted by kestralwing at 3:10 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Scrambled eggs, Soylent, instant mashed potatoes (make them in a bowl, you just need a kettle to boil water), canned tuna.
posted by halogen at 3:15 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

What about yogurt? Can you do dairy?
posted by Toddles at 3:22 PM on February 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Put an avocado and silken tofu in your smoothie for extra calories and protein. I would try those with a banana and some juice instead of water as the liquid.
Or just mash those up together with salt and lime juice for some guacamole.
posted by rmless at 3:23 PM on February 24, 2018

Have you seen a registered dietician? 600KCal a day might be dangerous territory.

Try a supplement like Ensure or Muscle Milk.

Good luck - hope you get it sorted out
posted by tiburon at 3:24 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: What about yogurt? Can you do dairy?

I've been able to tolerate 2% cottage cheese pretty well. I'm also able to eat instant mashed potatoes made with sour cream instead of butter.

600KCal a day might be dangerous territory.

If I can't get this sorted in the very near future, I plan to call my doctor.

I didn't mention it above (figured sweets would cover it), but chocolate is also a no-go.
posted by moira at 3:36 PM on February 24, 2018

Tahini on bananas?
posted by fluttering hellfire at 3:38 PM on February 24, 2018

Best answer: How about this savory egg custard; go light on the sesame oil if fat's no good? Low sugar, soft, protein, as bland as you want.
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:42 PM on February 24, 2018

This isn't what you asked, but I wanted to offer an aside. I have trouble swallowing too. My speech therapist told me to drink carbonated beverages with my meals, and to take medication, because the bubbles help dislodge stuck foods. Good luck.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:43 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have Gastroparesis. It is no fun. This is what I currently eat - boost drinks, the 360 calorie ones. Just reintroduced yogurt, handling it ok. Applesauce, bottled peaches or pears. Sweet or baked potatoes with a little butter and brown sugar. Canned peas. White bread and regular pasta. Tomato soup. Really thinly sliced cheese and crackers. I have worked up to that variety of food, if you want to call it varied, over the last two weeks. I have been in a bad flareup and lived on saltine crackers, applesauce and Gatorade for the previous six weeks.

I met with a Dietician and she recommended Boost and Tomato soup. I had been drinking ensure but it was way to sweet for me. Boost is thinner and seems less sweet. I have stayed away from protein powders and smoothies because I really need to control the amount of fiber I ingest. It really slows the emptying down.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:50 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Things I liked in this category:
Mashed Potatoes. I bought the premade kind, which I just had to nuke and eat. Add cheese/sour cream/bacon sprinkles/anything for flavour in moderation
Cauliflower. Well cooked, so it was very mushy. Ideally with cheese sauce.
Bananas. So many bananas. They mush up nicely, onto bread if you can manage some bread, and make it 'slimy' so it goes down easier.
Scrambled eggs. Easy to make. Good source of protein.
High calorie soup. Put it in a insulated mug for sipping over longer times. Tomato soup keeps well, add cheese as tolerated for extra calories.

Good luck. A restricted diet like this sucks!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 4:32 PM on February 24, 2018

Best answer: Note: OP has reflux and needs to avoid acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus (eg lime). It's too bad, because tomato soup is delicious!

OP, you have my sympathies. I found it hard to get enough calories and nutrition while eating a very restricted diet for bad reflux issues. Despite my best efforts I lost weight in an unhealthy fashion; I wasn't able to loosen up on my diet for about eight months or so, and I'm still not eating like I used to even eighteen months later. I had frustratingly little guidance from medical professionals, and my partner and I had to do a lot of research in order for me to get enough calories and nutrients. I found Dr. Koufman's "Dropping Acid" guidelines very helpful when I was in the worst throes of it.

I ate a lot of eggs, because although they have fat, it's less than some other high protein/high calorie foods, and they did not bother my stomach. As a contrast point, avocados were too fatty for me. You can just use the whites if the yolk is too much for you, though it's probably ok if you can tolerate some sour cream in your mashed potatoes and 2% cottage cheese.

Since you can't do rice, amaranth is filling but low fat, non-acidic, and soft. I like it savoury, but you can make it with a low-acid fruit for a sweeter breakfast food. Cook it with 1 cup amaranth to 3 cups liquid--vegetable or low-fat chicken broth for savoury, or water if you'll sweeten it later.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:54 PM on February 24, 2018

Can you do chickpeas and lentils? There are many, many preparations of either that are either meant to be soft or can be cooked till soft and further loosened with water, cooking liquid or stock without damage. If you can cook your own chickpeas and can tolerate it, soaking with baking soda makes them much softer than most tinned ones.
posted by tavegyl at 5:18 PM on February 24, 2018

Oatmeal? Mashed sweet potatoes?
posted by Empidonax at 5:26 PM on February 24, 2018

avocados, eggs, rice porridge
posted by bearette at 6:38 PM on February 24, 2018

You say you don't want sweets but is starch ok? I mean, there is a lot of porridge in this world. Malt-O Meal, rice cereal is often given to babies because it's gentle and adds calories, oatmeal, congee, peas porridge, etc. Also, mashes of starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, squash, parsnips, carrots, etc. Eggs are an excellent source of soft protein. Savory custards could be an option as long as they don't have a ton of milk fat in them.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hummus(made from tavegyl's suggestion of chickpeas/garbanzo beans/ceci)?
posted by brujita at 6:46 PM on February 24, 2018

Long distance cold-water swimmers have many of the same requirements, so something like Maxim may work well for you. This article talks about it and gives some other options as well.
posted by seasparrow at 7:59 PM on February 24, 2018

Response by poster: Starch is fine, it's what I've mostly been relying on. I'm just not able to get enough calories in with it.
posted by moira at 8:31 PM on February 24, 2018

Response by poster: Are the savory custards okay stored and eaten cold?
posted by moira at 8:33 PM on February 24, 2018

Yup, the custard is fine to store and eat cold!

The steps in the recipe about straining and waiting for the bubbles to go away are completely optional, btw.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:56 PM on February 24, 2018

Halogen mentioned Soylent. You could try that if you haven't. Though some don't like it, I find the powder version quite tasty and take pouches of it backpacking as full-day meals, and my long-distance-runner surfer friend uses it for full nutrition. (We haven't tried the liquid forms.)
posted by anadem at 9:57 PM on February 24, 2018

That's the phase that baby foods are for. Any supermarket should have a whole aisle of baby cereal and jars with various meals pre-pureed, or you can google recipes to make your own that will taste better. Load up real (not instant) potato mash with butter, too, and make sure to use whatever seasoning won't irritate your gastric tract. In my case it turned out to be salt - not the healthiest, but it meant I actually got the baby food down and was hungry for more.

(And a doctor visit besides wouldn't come amiss. Everyone kept telling me it was stress for months, which magically cleaned up after a short course of antibiotics...)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:12 PM on February 24, 2018

Best answer: Seconding nutrition shakes (e.g., ensure). There are no/reduced sugar ones and non-chocolate flavors.
posted by stillmoving at 11:10 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

My wife is going through the same thing, I'm so sorry. I do have a question - it's not clear to me what exactly the problem is. Are you unable to consume a greater volume of food without being ill, or is the problem something else?

Without being able to add fat, the only possible way to increase calories is to eat more volume and/or to eat foods with less water content so you are getting more calories per unit volume. This conflicts with your 'soft' requirement. This really seems like something you're going to need professional medical help for.
posted by zug at 12:06 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Downing a can or two of Ensure might help a lot. I've taken care of severely disabled people whose entire diet consisted of Ensure and they were a healthy weight. You might also want to try adding whey powder to stuff you are eating. That said, choose your powder carefully. Whey powder can have a ton of lactose in it and will be sweet. Maybe looking into diet additives for body builders?

I think it might be time to see a dietician if you can afford it.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:52 AM on February 25, 2018

Most lentil soups that aren't depressing are acidic or spicy, but I really like the combination of ground fennel, mild paprika, and turmeric. Also garlic and onion but that could be troublesome for you and it's good without, just different. Try red lentils simmered in vegetable stock (or meatier stock if you can handle it) until very soft, add in the spices plus salt and blend, simmer for a bit longer. Stir in some plain yogurt if you think that will work for you, and if fresh herbs are okay sprinkle in some fennel fronds or cilantro if you have them. You can also do things like crack an egg into a small pan of lentils and let it simmer until the whites are cooked through, which is like a no-tomato version of shakshuka.
posted by Mizu at 3:32 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I very much enjoy liquid, original flavor Soylent. Half a bottle is a nice 200 calorie mini-meal that you can repeat every couple hours throughout the day.
posted by itesser at 5:09 AM on February 25, 2018

Response by poster: I do have a question - it's not clear to me what exactly the problem is. Are you unable to consume a greater volume of food without being ill, or is the problem something else?

Anything approaching an actual meal starts coming back up, and that causes my esophagus and throat to swell shut. I can do a few bites at a time throughout the day.

Just to allay some concerns, this has been a milder issue for me in the past, but became awful (along with nausea and vomiting, which are gone now) when I tried to discontinue a medication. I'm back on the med until I can see my doc about the withdrawal symptoms, and I think this will pass pretty soon. It's been a couple of weeks of, though, and I feel like crap, and I just really need to get calories in now.

Quick update: I was able to try some vanilla Boost and it stays down great! 240 calories per drink right there. I've also made some egg custard with water and adjusted my food to some higher calorie things that will go down easy and are low in acid. I still can't get a handle on mornings at all. Nothing seems to work in the a.m.

I'm marking favorites for what seems to be helping best so far, but I'll be trying some other suggestions as I can, and they'll definitely come in handy for when this pops up again. Thanks for your help.
posted by moira at 10:35 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Natural (unsweetened) peanut butter. I love it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2018

Egg drop soup made with bone broth (I just heat up broth and crack an egg or two in it and mix it with a chopstick or fork for one second.)
Congee (I live on that stuff, and make it weekly in my Instant Pot. I try to make it partially with bone broth.)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:56 AM on February 26, 2018

Response by poster: Y'all. I have shot up to 1200-1400 calories easy just from adding Boost and that savory custard. Trying a couple of tbsp hummus with water today. THANK YOU.
posted by moira at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: For anybody coming to this thread for help with the same issues: hummus is a solid no, at least for me.
posted by moira at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2018

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