Anyone can develop Parkinson’s disease. Approximately 50,000 people in the United States get a Parkinson’s diagnosis every year.
Maintaining a healthy diet is a possible way to help minimize the chances of developing Parkinson’s disease. In addition, eating well can help slow PD’s progression and ease its symptoms. Let’s look at expert recommendations for a healthy Parkinson’s menu.
Essential Foods for the Parkinson’s Diet
Researchers are focusing on diets that can mitigate the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. “Good food” replenishes essential vitamins and minerals, but it also bolsters healthy living and protects against harmful environmental factors.
“Oxidative stress,” caused by free-floating elements like pollution, cigarette smoke, and cleaners, can lead to cell damage associated with the progression of nerve cell death in PD. Researchers and dietitians, including Jelena Etemovic from Cedars-Sinai, champion plant-based foods high in antioxidants to combat oxidative stress.
Examples of antioxidants include Vitamin A, E, and C and can be found in the following foods:
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale)
- Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers)
- Spices (turmeric, cinnamon, ginger)
- Tree nuts (walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios)
Inflammation of the nervous system, known as neuroinflammation, is also linked with accelerated nerve damage in PD. Healthy fats operate as anti-inflammatory agents, which is argued to reduce neuroinflammation and slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Let’s look at examples of Omega-3s and other healthy fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids, essential to almost any healthy diet, can be found in:
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, cod, herring, lake trout)
- Nuts (walnuts)
- Seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds)
- Brussels sprouts
You can also intake Omega-3 fatty acids through daily supplements like fish oil, flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, and algae oil. However, we recommend consuming whole foods when possible.
Other Healthy Fats
You can find other forms of healthy fats in the following foods:
- Healthy oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil)
- Nut butters (almond butter, peanut butter)
Be careful with egg yolks, as they are high in saturated fat. Instead, opt for egg whites when possible.
Choosing organic foods minimizes exposure to toxins like pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs found in conventional food products. Since organic fruits and vegetables are typically more expensive at grocery stores, select local and in-season varieties to accommodate budgetary constraints.
When buying and cooking meat and animal products, select the best quality options, when possible, including:
- Grass-fed beef (organic, if possible)
- Free-range eggs (organic, if possible)
- Organic milk and dairy products (in careful moderation)
- Wild-caught seafood
- Free-range chicken and turkey (organic, if possible)
Essentially, you’re consuming what the animal is drinking, so choosing animal products with cleaner and healthier diets is the optimal option.
Experts published research in 2022 suggesting that consuming foods rich in flavonoids may help reduce mortality rates among Parkinson’s patients. Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds present in brightly colored food, including:
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine
A Note on Red Wine
Though red wine contains flavonoids, it is, nonetheless an alcoholic beverage. Those living with Parkinson’s disease should consume alcoholic beverages in moderation. Alcoholic drinks have empty calories and little to no nutrients. Additionally, drinking too much alcohol may lead to accidents and health problems unrelated to PD.
Foods to Avoid in the Parkinson’s Diet
It’s imperative to avoid foods that lack nutritional merit and can accelerate PD symptoms. As much as possible, limit or eliminate the following food from your diet:
These types of food have been prepared beforehand, which may have changed their nutritional composition while losing some of the food’s nutritional benefits in the preservation process. Research suggests that these foods may contribute to the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Processed food examples include:
- Canned Goods: Avoid corned beef, meatloaf, sardines, or even fruits and vegetables that come in cans. Despite their availability and convenience, their nutrient levels have decreased in the canning and preservation process and added salt and preservatives can introduce toxins and health risks.
- Breakfast Cereals: These foods may claim to offer many health benefits because of their ingredients. However, keep in mind that they still undergo processes that eliminate certain nutrients. Plus, cereal manufacturers may add sugar and refined carbohydrates into the mix.
- Junk Foods: Stay away from chips, soft drinks, candy, and cakes. Generally, you should avoid anything that offers little nutritional value while packing a lot of calories. As an alternative, opt for fresh fruit during dessert or celebrations.
Select Dairy Products
Research suggests that you avoid the following dairy products because they may increase the risk of developing the condition:
- Skim milk
- Low-fat milk
Dry, Brittle, or Crumbly Foods
Those living with PD often struggle with chewing and swallowing food. Thus, stay away from dry, brittle, crumbly, tough, or chewy foods. If you must eat tough or chewy meat, Use smaller portions and add sauce or gravy to ease consumption.
Note: the swallowing issues that may accompany Parkinson’s can be dangerous, and dietary modifications may be required to safely eat and drink. Please talk to your health care team about any swallowing issues you are experiencing.
Maintain a Healthy and Balanced Meal Plan
Eating well and avoiding specific foods can prevent the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Still, you must adopt an overall healthy lifestyle to improve further your chances of avoiding the disease’s debilitating effects. Consider the following diet and nutrition guidelines for maintaining a healthy diet:
- Eat Balanced, Timely Meals: Don’t obsess about restricting your diet; liberalize it! Include foods from all vital food groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and a limited amount of dairy. In addition, don’t skip meals or go longer than 4 hours between meals to avoid weight loss and optimize nutrition consumption and utilization.
- Avoid Popular Diets: Stay away from fad diets. Unless a certified health professional crafts a menu based on a popular diet for you, consider avoiding it. Discuss any new or trending diet with your doctor before trying one.
- Limit Sweet and Salty Foods: Reduce your sugar and sodium intake. Sweet food, especially baked goods and desserts, tend to have many calories without vital nutrients in return. Excess sugar intake may also lead to weight gain, increased blood sugar, and tooth decay.
Ease PD Symptoms
Other ways to improve your diet and ease Parkinson’s disease symptoms focus on keeping your bones strong and supporting any related medication you may be taking. Consider the following healthy habits:
- Eat Fiber & Drink Water: Ease constipation with adequate fiber consumption. Whole grains, fresh fruits, and leafy greens are excellent sources of fiber. Drink Water: Ease constipation with adequate fiber consumption. Drinking full glasses of water also breaks down prescription medicines.
- Eat Fava Beans: Fava beans naturally contain levodopa, an amino acid found in commonly prescribed medication against Parkinson’s disease.
- Snack on Berries: Consider keeping a good supply of berries to snack on when you crave sweets. Natural sugars are always better than processed sugars and contain essential vitamins and minerals.
Ultimately, focus your diet on nutrient-rich foods and consume them timely and balanced. Avoid foods that can negatively affect your blood pressure, heart, and amount of saturated fats. Plan out your meals to reduce ambiguity on what to eat next in a day. If you have questions about what to eat and drink, reach out to us to get paired with a resource to help you craft a menu that suits your specific needs with PD.