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Nutrition and Eating Tips for People With Myasthenia Gravis

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 13, 2020

For some people with myasthenia gravis, both the disease and treatments for it can affect your ability to eat. Myasthenia gravis can cause muscle weakness in your jaws and throat, which could make it hard to chew or swallow food. You might also have severe fatigue that makes it difficult to chew, swallow, or even have the energy to get through a meal. To make things worse, some myasthenia gravis medications cause stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea.

Why Good Nutrition Matters

If myasthenia gravis or your treatments affect you this way, you’ll need to make an effort to eat a balanced diet with the right mix of nutrients so your body functions well, your bones stay strong, and you have energy to be active.

How can you make it easier to get the nutrients your body needs? Make some changes to:

  • The foods you choose
  • How you prepare foods
  • The way you chew
  • How you sit when you eat meals and snacks
  • When you plan your meals

Choose Softer Foods

Foods with a softer texture are easier to chew and swallow.

  • Try mashed, soft, or pureed foods. Egg salad, canned fish, smoothies, pastas, applesauce, yogurt, ripe bananas, and soup are nutritious foods that may be easier for you to eat.
  • Finely chop up meat, veggies, or chicken.
  • Moisten foods with gravy, chicken broth, sour cream, or butter to soften them.
  • Avoid dry, crunchy, or chewy snack foods like crackers, popcorn, chips, bagels, nuts, or chips.

Manage Liquids Carefully

Water and other liquids can make some foods easier to eat, but they can also cause swallowing problems:

  • Sip water during meals or snacks. Little sips of liquid moisten and soften foods so they’re easier to chew and swallow. Swap small bites of solid foods with sips of water.
  • Liquids can get into your lungs if you have myasthenia gravis. This is called aspiration. It can make you cough or choke. To lower this risk, add thickening agents to liquid foods.
  • Be extra careful when you swallow foods that have both liquid and chunks, like chicken noodle soup or cereal in milk.

Take Your Time

Myasthenia gravis can lead to fatigue that makes chewing and swallowing hard work. Take these steps to make sure you have enough energy for your meals:

  • Rest before meals.
  • Plan to eat your when you have the most energy. Make breakfast your main meal if you have more energy in the morning.
  • Schedule meals for about an hour after you take your medications.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Rest between each bite.
  • Have smaller, more frequent meals instead of a big meal.
  • Eat small bites of foods.
  • Don’t feel the need to chat during meals.

Eat in the Right Position

Position your body to lower your risk of choking as you eat. Always sit upright in your chair at meals or when you snack. Keep your head tilted forward.

Weak muscles in your throat may make you cough while you eat or drink. If you start to cough during a meal:

  • Tip your body forward.
  • Breathe slowly through your nose instead of your mouth
  • Try to relax.

Avoid Hard-to-Digest Foods

Cut back on foods that are greasy, oily, spicy, or fatty. They could make your stomach upset worse. While some dairy foods can trigger diarrhea, yogurt may be good for digestion.

High-fiber foods can also be hard to digest or cause diarrhea. Skip snacks like popcorn, raw veggies, or dried fruits. Caffeine in coffee or tea could worsen diarrhea.

Diarrhea saps your body of nutrients like potassium. Eat more foods rich in potassium: mashed potatoes, ripe bananas and avocados, and orange juice.

Steroids like prednisone cause your body to bloat. Watch your salt intake from chips or other snacks, frozen meals, or canned soup. Steroids may also cause osteoporosis. Eat calcium-rich foods like yogurt, soft tofu, salmon, or broccoli, or take a calcium supplement to keep your bones strong.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Conquer MG: “Nutrition,” “Tips for Eating.”

Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America: “MG Management,” “Nutrition and Myasthenia Gravis,” “Wellness Strategies.”

Mayo Clinic: “Myasthenia gravis.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Importance of Good Nutrition.”

Tufts Health Plan: “The Importance of Good Nutrition.”

International Osteoporosis Foundation: “Good Nutrition for Healthy Bones.”

Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of Western Pennsylvania: “Nutritional Needs of the Patient with Myasthenia Gravis.”

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