People with Parkinson’s disease are gravitating toward the Mediterranean diet because it’s packed with nutrients without skimping on the flavor.

If you or someone you love is living with Parkinson’s disease, chances are you’ve heard the words “Mediterranean” and “diet” come up in conversations about nutrition.

What exactly is a Mediterranean diet? It’s a diet that is traditionally eaten by those inhabiting the 21 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Morocco are just a few examples.

The main components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds and plant-based oils, i.e., olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, etc.
  • Weekly intake of beans, lean poultry, eggs and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon
  • Moderate portions of dairy products and wine
  • Limited intake of red meat, processed foods, sugar and sodium

Interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s with the observation that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries than in the U.S. and northern Europe. Subsequent studies found that the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Parkinson’s and the Mediterranean diet

Is there concrete scientific evidence proving that eating a Mediterranean diet has a direct impact on Parkinson’s symptoms? Not really. Studies conducted on diet to mitigate Parkinson’s symptoms or lower the risk of developing PD have shown inconsistent results.

That said, nourishing your body and brain with vital nutrients found in a plant-based food is just plain common sense! In fact, the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the World Health Organization to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

One of the reasons why people with Parkinson’s gravitate toward the Mediterranean diet is because it’s heavy on plant-based nutrients, yet moderate when it comes to protein consumption. People living with PD often have concerns that protein intake may decrease the effectiveness of carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), a medication for treating Parkinson’s.

Indeed, a high-protein meal may slow levodopa absorption in the brain. As the disease progresses, people with Parkinson’s have found that eating most of their protein later in the day gives them better control over their motor symptoms.

Doctors recommend taking carbidopa/levodopa 30 to 60 minutes before eating a meal. This allows the medication to be quickly absorbed before the food can interfere.

The diet plan specifically targeting brain health

Some proponents of nutrition and its effect on brain health suggest trying a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Together, they are referred to as the MIND diet (The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).

The MIND diet has been associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and possibly lowering the risk or slowing the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms in elderly patients. It’s based on 10 food groups to eat and five to avoid.

The 10 to eat include green leafy veggies, berries, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, olive oil, whole grains and no more than one glass of wine per day. The five to avoid are butter/margarine, cheese, red meat, fried foods and sweets.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of overlap between the MIND diet and the Mediterranean diet.

Making Mediterranean or MINDful meals at home

Interested in trying the Mediterranean or MIND diet? These seven tips will help you get started:

1. Load up on fruits and vegetables. Aim for seven to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Considering combining them into a nutritious smoothie that is easy to make and even easier to digest.

2. Eat more seafood. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes good and requires little cleanup. Avoid deep-fried fish.

3. Reduce red meat. Substitute steak for fish, poultry or beans. If you can’t resist your craving for beef, make sure it’s lean and keep portions small.

4. Enjoy some dairy in moderation. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of cheeses. You may find that drinking or cooking with nut-based milks, such as almond milk or coconut milk, are just as delicious and effective in recipes—but with half the fat and double the nutrients.

5. Go for the whole grains. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta. There are more pastas coming out that are made with more nutritious ingredients such as lentils or chickpeas. Experiment with other whole grains, such as quinoa, bulgur and farro.

6. Spice up your life. Herbs and spices boost flavor and lessen the need for salt. For instance, try substituting salt with garlic salt. Get to know the delectable orange spice better known as turmeric, as it is chockful of antioxidants and great for digestion.

7. Use healthy fats. Try olive oil or coconut oil as a replacement for butter when cooking. Instead of putting butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in olive oil flavored with herbs and spices.

Here are a few of our favorite Mediterranean recipes:

Maple and Tamari Glazed Salmon

Tandoori Spiced Quinoa

Asparagus and Tomato Farro Salad

Smoky Baba Ghanoush

Keep in mind that, due to various food allergies and digestive issues that impact us on an individual basis, there isn’t one particular diet that is proven to be best for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

You should always talk to your doctor about nutrition concerns and work together to determine which diet is best for your own unique needs.