Apple sauce is good, don’t get me wrong.
Although if it’s almost all you can eat, day after day, even the tastiest apple sauce is going to lose its appeal.
But when you have trigeminal neuralgia and/or other face pain conditions, eating is a tricky business. Biting and chewing – especially crunchy, hard or chewy foods – can trigger a severe pain attack. Even swallowing can trigger pain. Often the pain is so bad that people don’t eat at all, or limit themselves to apple sauce.
The trouble with either of those options is the human body needs the fuel and nourishment a balanced diet gives them. Without enough fuel, you will have less energy to cope with the pain and fatigue and day-to-day challenges living with trigeminal neuralgia causes. Without the right nourishment, your health will suffer.
It’s a nasty irony when you have trigeminal neuralgia – eating well keeps you in better health, but eating at all causes excruciating pain.
So, what do you do? Well, a lot of people eat apple sauce. It’s tasty, it’s soft, requires no chewing, and when you’re in so much pain even thinking about preparing a healthy meal is daunting, it takes the least effort to prepare. Tasty, but boring, and very little sustenance on its own.
It’s not only texture of food that is an issue with trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve also reacts to sensations and smells – so tastes and temperature of food often trigger attacks. Anything piping hot from the oven or ice-cold from the fridge and freezer are common pain triggers. Also, very strong tasting food like spice and citrus, and very sugary foods, are common triggers. It’s a good idea to keep a record of your diet for a week or so, and work out which foods – tastes, temperatures and textures cause you trouble.
Trigeminal neuralgia can rob life of a lot of pleasures – but food, even when it’s difficult to eat, needn’t be one of them. There’s a wealth of soft food options possible to ensure you get a balanced, nutritious and varied diet. You might not be able to sink your teeth into a juicy steak or crunch your way through a crisp salad any more, but there are still plenty of tasty meals to be enjoyed.
Eggs are so versatile – poached, soft-boiled, scrambled, they are easy to eat with little effort chewing and take little preparation. Chuck some soft veggies in and turn them into an omelette, quiche or frittata. One of my favourite breakfasts is poached egg, mashed avocado, and smoked salmon, chopped in small pieces so I don’t need to chew much.
Weetbix, porridge, even cornflakes will soften up fast if you soak them in warm milk.
Baked potatoes with cream cheese, or baked beans. Mashed potatoes with gravy poured over or mix in grated cheese.
Smoothies and shakes
Chuck some yoghurt and fruit or vegetables in a blender, and whip up a smoothie, or buy them ready-made. I can’t get enough of berry smoothies!
Soups and stews
Can’t beat home-made soups for flavour – my husband makes a mean pea soup – although if you don’t want to cook, supermarkets stock a great range from bog-standard cup-a-soups to gourmet delicacies.
Pasta and rice
Because pasta is soft it doesn’t require much chewing, and replacing spaghetti or tagliatelli with macaroni or pasta shells makes it even easier to eat. Whip up a bolognese, tomato, cheese, or creamy mushroom sauce.
Fruit and veg
Fresh crunchy apple or crunchy carrot sticks might be impossible now, but stewed / poached fruit and mashed veggies are a good substitute. Or eat soft fruits like bananas and raspberries, or roast vegetables for a softer texture than raw or boiled.
Fried fish can be too chewy, but boiled or poached fish is softer. Canned fish like tuna makes a nice pasta bake. White, flaky fish like cod is soft to eat, or make it into a fish pie with white sauce and mashed potato.
While most meat can be difficult to chew, and roasts and barbecues are probably off your menu, casseroles might work better for you. Slow-cooked meat is often much more tender. Or minced meat is soft and can be made into many different easy to eat dishes – bolognese, sloppy joes, shepherds pie, lasagne, chilli con carne etc.
Yoghurt, custard, rice pudding, mousses, jellies, soft cake – there’s plenty to choose from.
You may never need to eat a jar of apple sauce again!