In order to meet nutritional goals using homemade blended food for tube feeding, it’s important to understand that your food choices will affect your overall nutrition intake. Every blend requires the addition of a liquid to create a fluid viscosity, and ideally, the liquid you choose will enhance the nutrient profile of your blend.
I often recommend that milk is used to create blended meals for tube feeding, instead of water or other liquids, because milk adds protein, calories, vitamins and minerals to a blend, without significantly increasing the volume or changing the texture. Cow’s milk is a good option for most people, but if you prefer to avoid dairy, you can use a milk alternative - a non-dairy milk-like beverage made from nuts, grains or legumes.
There’s a wide variety of milk alternatives available commercially, ranging from the well-known milks such as soy, almond and rice, to the more obscure like chickpea, oat and pea milk. There’s also the option to create milk alternatives from scratch at home, with many recipes available on the internet.
Beyond the vast options in regards to the type of milk, there are different flavour choices such as chocolate and vanilla, and sweetened and unsweetened versions of most milks as well. With so many aspects to take into consideration, what should you pay attention to?
When choosing a milk alternative, read the label to check the amount of protein and calories per cup. Review the ingredient list to see what’s in the milk or if you want to see if sugar has been added to the product. There can be significant nutritional differences depending on the type of milk and the brand. Typically, milk alternatives containing the highest amount of protein are chickpea, pea, and soy.
There is a wide range of protein and calorie content among the various milks as you can see in the table below:
Milk alternatives can be a source of vitamin B12, vitamin D and Calcium, but only if the product is fortified. Fortification involves the addition of vitamins and minerals not otherwise present in the product. Cow’s milk naturally contains vitamin B12 and calcium, and is fortified with vitamin D. Milk alternatives do not naturally contain much calcium and do not have any vitamin B12 or vitamin D, unless they are fortified. If you are looking for a source of these essential nutrients, make sure to carefully read product labels and select commercial milk alternatives that are appropriately fortified. Homemade milks are not fortified so keep that in mind if you plan on making non-dairy milk at home for blenderized tube feeding.
All non-dairy milks are lactose-free but some may contain gas-forming starches that can cause an upset stomach and bloating- especially those made from legumes like chickpea or soy milk. Rice, coconut, and nut milks are generally the easiest to tolerate in tube feeding as they contain the least gas-forming starches, but everyone’s digestion is a little different so you may want to experiment with different milks until you find one that works for you.
When choosing a milk alternative for your blended diet, read the product label and consider the ingredients, the amount of protein and calories per serving and whether or not the milk is fortified. There are a multitude of milk alternatives available so it’s highly likely that your perfect milk is waiting for you right now at your local grocery store.
Thank you very much to Sarah Walker & Sandra Thies, dietetic students at the University of British Columbia, for their contributions to the writing of this article.