A nutritious diet is essential for healthy living with Parkinson’s.
For people with Parkinson’s, nutritious foods can help manage some of the common symptoms of the disease and support healthy brain functions. 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.
What do I need to know about diet and medications?Before you start making changes to your diet, you should know that protein can interfere with the uptake of levodopa. Sinemet and Parcopa are commonly used levodopa medications. For people taking levodopa to manage Parkinson’s symptoms, timing your protein intake around your medications may help them work better. If you aren’t sure whether protein may interfere with your medications, or for advice on medication timing around meals, be sure to talk with your doctor.
What are some recommendations for diet and 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!
Which foods should I eat and which should I limit?In addition to loading up on the staples of the Mediterranean diet, there are some foods you should try to limit in your diet. The table below lists foods that you should try to include in your diet as often as possible (“More Is Better”) and foods that you should eat only occasionally (“Try To Limit”) to help maintain your health.
More Is Better
Try To Limit
|Fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits||Processed foods|
|Nuts and seeds||Dairy|
|Fresh herbs and spices||Sugar, high fructose corn syrup|
|Healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado||Fried foods|
|Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole oats, etc.)||Refined grains (white flour, white bread, white rice)|
|Legumes (black beans, kidney beans, fava beans, chickpeas, etc.)||Meat and animal fats|
|Fish (not fried!)|
|Tea (green, black, white, herbal)|
What are some examples of “More Is Better” foods?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 for Parkinson’s.
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|
|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.|
|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|
|Olive oil||Use in salad dressings, marinades, and some cooking. Can be used to roast or sauté vegetables.|
|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|
|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)|
|Fish||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)|
|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|
Which nutrients are beneficial for Parkinson’s?
Many of the nutrients found in the staple foods of a Mediterranean diet are beneficial for Parkinson’s. One type of nutrient in particular, called antioxidants, helps 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 a healthy brain and healthy brain functions. Plus antioxidants are important for overall health and preventing other chronic illnesses. For these reasons, a diet high in foods containing antioxidants is essential for people with Parkinson’s.
Antioxidants can be found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and teas. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and flavonoids (especially a type of flavonoid called anthocyanins). Good sources of these antioxidants include:
|Leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce)||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||Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes)|
|Red cabbage||Butternut squash||Butternut squash||Strawberries|
|Eggplants||Red peppers||Red peppers||Peppers (green, red)|
|Radishes||Vegetable oils||Carrots||Melons (honeydew, cantaloupe)|
|Purple asparagus||Asparagus||Broccoli||Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)|
|Kidney beans, black beans||Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts)||Peas||Kiwis|
|Red onions||Sunflower seeds||Cantaloupe||Pineapple|
|Pomegranates||Tomato||Black-eyed peas||Tomato, tomato juice|
What about pesticides on produce?
Certain pesticides and herbicides increase the risk of Parkinson’s. For this reason, we highly recommend reading “Ending Parkinson’s Disease” to learn about chemicals linked to Parkinson’s and join PD Avengers to participate in global efforts to limit or ban these chemicals.
Though we know that some pesticides and herbicides can cause Parkinson’s, it’s unclear whether these chemicals affect the progression of the disease once someone is diagnosed. Still, 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. There are also organic options available at grocery stores and farmer’s markets. You can also try growing your own produce! Gardening is a great activity for improving physical and mental health.
How can diet help with the symptoms of Parkinson’s?
There are some symptoms of Parkinson’s that can be helped through diet. Constipation, sleep problems, weight management, and chewing and swallowing are some of the symptoms that may be improved by changes to your diet.
ConstipationIncreasing 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. You can also try to add non-dairy fermented foods to your diet to see if their naturally occurring probiotics – the helpful bacteria that live in our gut – help with digestive issues. Examples of non-dairy fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled herring, or kombucha. Prebiotics, which help good bacteria grow in our guts, can also help digestion. Prebiotics are found in high fiber, plant-based foods.
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!
Sleep problems are common in Parkinson’s and affect quality of life. Though there are many things involved in getting a good night’s sleep, diet can help. Some studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet is associated with better sleep. Another reason to give this diet a try! There are also some things you should try to avoid before going to bed:
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evenings so it’s stimulant effects won’t keep you up at night.
- Avoid alcohol at night because it disrupts your sleep cycle, even if it makes you feel tired at first.
- Avoid eating too late so that you aren’t still digesting at bedtime. Avoid spicy and fatty foods that can also give you indigestion.
- Limit fluids right before bed so that you aren’t waking up to use the bathroom.
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 ProblemsProblems 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.
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|