Nutrition for Parkinson’s

Nutrition for Parkinson’s Overview

A nutritious diet is important for maintaining good health and preventing chronic illness. For people with Parkinson’s, nutritious foods can also help manage some of the common symptoms of the disease and support healthy brain functions. Whether you’re making a meal at home, or eating out with friends, the nutrition information on this website can help guide you to create your own healthy diet.

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A Word on Parkinson’s Nutrition Research

Many studies have examined how specific nutrients affect brain cells and animal models of Parkinson’s in the laboratory. Other studies have looked at how different foods increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing the disease. Though this information provides important clues about nutrition and Parkinson’s, research on whether certain foods might improve or worsen the disease once a person is diagnosed is limited. While more evidence on the effect of diet on the progression of Parkinson’s disease is needed, educating yourself about the benefits of a healthy diet is still important for your overall health and symptom management. The information on this website is a good place to start learning about nutrition.

Medication Interactions

Before you start making changes to your diet, you should know that protein can interfere with the uptake of levodopa. For people taking levodopa to manage symptoms, protein shouldn’t be eaten 30 minutes before or one hour after taking these medications. Sinemet and Parcopa are commonly used levodopa medications. If you aren’t sure whether protein may interfere with your medications, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Dietary Recommendations for Parkinson’s

Plant-based, whole food diets are healthy for everyone. For people with Parkinson’s, loading up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can help manage symptoms and support a healthy lifestyle. Research suggests that the staples of a Mediterranean diet – which also includes fish and olive oil – may have particular benefits for people with Parkinson’s. These foods can be incorporated into just about any cuisine, and the recipes and other tools on this website can show you how!
More Is Better Try To Limit
Fresh and frozen vegetables Soda, diet soda
Fresh and frozen fruits Meat and animal fats
Fish (not fried!) Dairy
Nuts and seeds Fried foods
Olive oil Processed foods
Coconut oil Refined grains (white flour, white bread, white rice)
Fresh herbs and spices Sugar, high fructose corn syrup
Legumes
Whole grains
Tea

More Is Better Tips & Examples

Choose a variety of foods from the “More Is Better” category to get a good balance of nutrients in your diet. Below are some examples and tips for choosing foods that can support a healthy lifestyle with Parkinson’s. This information is adapted from Dr. John Duda’s “Wellness prescription for people with Parkinson’s disease.” To learn more about Dr. Duda, read our interview with him about whole food, plant-based diets.
More Is Better Tips & Examples
Fresh and frozen vegetables Choose a variety of colorful vegetables. Good sources include: • Dark leafy greens (spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, arugula) • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts) • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, egglplant) • Mushrooms
Fresh and frozen fruits Choose a variety of colorful fruits. Good sources include: • Berries (blueberries, cherries, goji berries, cranberries) • Stone fruits (plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines) • Dried fruits (prunes, dried apricots) • Pears, oranges, watermelon, bananas
Fish (not fried!) Check out the Environmental Working Groups Good Seafood Guide for fishes that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury. Some good sources include: • Pacific coast wild caught salmon • Small fatty fishes (mackerel, anchovies, sardines)
Nuts and seeds Eat a variety of nuts and seeds. Examples include: • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews) • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, chia, hemp) Add 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax to your diet as well.
Olive oil Use in salad dressings, marinades, and some cooking. Can be used to roast or sauté vegetables.
Coconut oil Use in salad dressings, smoothies, and some cooking. Can be used to roast or sauté vegetables.
Fresh herbs and spices Choose a variety of fresh herbs and spices. Some good examples include: • Turmeric • Pepper • Cinnamon • Cilantro • Curry • Oregano • Basil • Thyme • Ginger • Rosemary • Nutmeg
Legumes Legumes include beans, lentils and soy. Some good examples include: • Beans (kidney, black, garbanzo, black eye peas, fava, navy white, and broad) • Lentils (green, brown, red) • Soy (tofu, miso, edamame, tempeh)
Whole grains Whole grains include the entire grain kernel, which contains dietary fiber and other nutrients. Some good examples include: • Oatmeal • Brown rice • Quinoa • Buckwheat • Barley • Spelt • Faro • Bulgar wheat
Tea Tea served alone (without added milk or sugar) contains a variety of nutrients. Try drinking about 3 cups per day of the following types: • Green tea • Black tea • White tea

Antioxidants

You may have heard of beneficial nutrients called antioxidants, which help to reduce damage to cells in the body that are caused by free radicals. There is some evidence that suggests antioxidants can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and support healthy brain function. But antioxidants are an important nutrient for everyone, and can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants include vitamin E, beta-carotene and flavonoids (especially a type of flavonoid called anthocyanins). Good sources of these antioxidants include:
Flavonoids Vitamin E Beta-Carotene
Leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce) Leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce) Leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce)
Berries (blueberries, cherries, cranberries, blackberries) Broccoli Sweet potatoes
Red cabbage Butternut squash Butternut squash
Eggplants Red peppers Red peppers
Radishes Vegetable oils Carrots
Black beans Asparagus Peas
Kidney beans Broccoli
Purple asparagus
Red onions
Plums
Pomegranates
Grapes

Pesticides

Certain pesticides and herbicides increase the risk of Parkinson’s. Though it’s unclear whether pesticides and herbicides affect the progression of the disease, it’s always a good idea to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. You may also want to consider the Environmental Working Group’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which includes a list of fruits and vegetables that are lower in pesticides.

Managing Parkinson’s Symptoms

Constipation

Increasing your intake of fiber and fluids may help if you have constipation. Eating 30-40 grams of fiber daily, which is about one cup of legumes, may help with this symptom. Drinking 1-2 liters (6-8 glasses) of fluids can also help. Though the scientific evidence for the use of probiotics is limited, you can try to add non-dairy fermented foods or take a supplement to see if it helps. Examples of non-dairy fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled herring, or kombucha, But before you try a fiber supplement or laxative, be sure to speak to your doctor. And exercise is also a great way to keep your digestive system moving!

Weight Management

In the cases of weight loss and weight gain, there is likely an imbalance between how much you eat and how much energy you use. People experiencing weight loss may not be eating or absorbing enough calories. If you do not have an appetite or seem to be losing weight unintentionally, talk to your doctor about possible problems absorbing food, which is common in Parkinson’s. People experiencing weight gain are likely eating more calories than they burn through activities. A combination of eating less and doing more activity can help you lose weight.

Chewing & Swallowing

Problems with chewing and swallowing can lead to choking or breathing food and liquids into the lungs. Both of these conditions can be dangerous, but a speech therapist can help you focus on safe swallowing. Additionally, choosing foods that are easier to chew and swallow can help. The table below, from ParkinsonNet’s Dietetic Guideline for Parkinson’s Disease, provides some guidelines to help you make decisions about what to safely eat.
Problem Consistency Try To Avoid
Difficulty chewing Soft and grinded food Tough and hard food; tough meat; hard fruits, crust
Difficulty manipulating food in the mouth Soft food Hard, granular or crumbly food, thin liquids
Too little saliva Soft and liquid food; more use of fluids during meals Dry food
Easily choking on liquids Thick liquids; thickening of thin liquids Thin liquids
Difficulty swallowing Liquid and soft food Tough and hard food