Medical Marvels

The Dentist Revolutionizing Food for People Who Have Trouble Swallowing

Happy Valley’s Reva Barewal Makes Melt-in-Your-Mouth Snacks for the Chewing Challenged

By Juno DeMelo December 31, 2019 Published in the January 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

Born with a congenital jaw abnormality that left her unable to chew on one side, dentist Reva Barewal is particularly attuned to the pleasures of food. The Happy Valley–based doc even went to culinary school after dental school.

That’s why she’s especially struck by the plight of people with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, which affects an estimated 1 in 25 adults, including those with head and neck cancers, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. It’s a condition that turns eating from something to savor into a gummy slog.

Barewal saw patients who were forcing down four or five cans of Ensure a day. “And between meals, everything is sweet,” she says. “You have yogurt, applesauce, pudding, gelatin, and ice cream. When I asked what they craved, it was crackers, popcorn, pretzels, and chips.” One woman even went so far as to stick a pretzel in her cheek and suck on it.

In 2015, Barewal set out to help. She began developing a crunchy, savory snack that anyone on a texture-restricted diet—or not—could enjoy. Working with speech language pathologists, geriatricians, dietitians, and scientists at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center, she combined puréed vegetables, herbs, and spices with a patent-pending secret ingredient to make a cracker that dissolves within five seconds.

Now in production at the Meals on Wheels People’s kitchen in Multnomah Village and on offer at Providence and Avamere facilities, her Savorease crackers are available in Oregon and Washington and will be sold nationally by March 2020. Combined with the saliva-stimulating, protein-packed dips Barewal is also developing, the crackers deliver nearly as many calories and as much protein as a meal-replacement shake, minus the sugar.

“Adults don’t want to eat baby food anymore. Teething biscuits are not appropriate psychologically for them,” says Barewal. “We need to eat for nutrition, but we don’t eat nutrition—we eat food.”

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