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Parkinson’s Diet and Nutrition: Which Foods To Eat and Avoid

Updated on September 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan

There’s no specific diet that’s recommended for Parkinson’s disease (PD), but what you eat does matter. Choosing a balanced diet full of nutritious, antioxidant-rich foods may help slow disease progression, reduce specific symptoms, and improve your quality of life. Hearing from others who have faced similar challenges can help you find everyday solutions that make it easier to eat well.

Foods To Eat With Parkinson’s Disease

Research suggests that fruits, vegetables, and seafood can provide many of the nutrients needed to slow aging and neurological degeneration associated with Parkinson’s. “Eat the rainbow” by including a variety of vibrant plant foods — dark leafy greens, pumpkin, berries, mangos, broccoli, and more. This will help ensure that you get lots of phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients, also called antioxidants) in your diet. Incorporating antioxidants is important because these nutrients help prevent damage to cells that make dopamine, the brain chemical primarily involved in Parkinson’s development.

Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber to help prevent constipation, a common symptom of Parkinson’s.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, foods that may also be neuroprotective (support the health of brain cells) include:

  • Soy
  • Caffeine
  • Foods with omega-3s (such as fish and walnuts)
  • Foods with resveratrol (such as red wine or grapes)
  • Turmeric
  • Black or green tea

Consider Calories

Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential for people with Parkinson’s disease. Some people lose weight due to poor appetite, difficulty eating, or tremors, while others struggle with weight gain because of mobility issues or medication side effects.

If you struggle with weight loss, try more calorie-dense foods, including:

  • Nut butters
  • Olives
  • Protein shakes
  • Full-fat Greek yogurt
  • Juices
  • Avocado

To avoid weight gain, choose less energy-dense foods, including:

It’s possible to find nutritious options on either end of the calorie spectrum if you choose whole foods that are naturally high in vitamins and minerals. Have fun with different preparation methods, such as grilling, making stir-fries, or adding ingredients to the blender for smoothies and pureed soups.

Consider Your Medications

Ask your doctor if there are any special considerations you should keep in mind while planning your diet based on your current medications and individual medical history. For instance, getting enough protein is crucial to prevent muscle wasting sometimes seen in Parkinson’s disease. However, protein intake may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb levodopa — sold as Duopa, Parcopa, Rytary, and Sinemet. Sometimes taking your Parkinson’s medication either 30 minutes before or 60 minutes after you eat is enough to prevent fluctuations in Parkinson’s symptoms. If this timing doesn’t help, research shows that waiting to consume your daily protein requirement in the evening can reduce fluctuations in 80 percent of people. This dietary pattern is called a protein redistribution diet.

There’s no benefit to following a protein redistribution diet if you don’t respond to levodopa, but if you follow that type of diet, be sure to find high-quality protein sources and consume sufficient amounts to meet your daily requirements. You may want to consider a protein supplement if you’re unable to meet your needs through food alone. A registered dietitian can help you plan a redistribution diet that’s appropriate for you.

Foods To Avoid When You Have Parkinson’s

Certain foods are not as beneficial when you have Parkinson’s. Talk to your doctor about whether you should avoid any of these options.

Dairy Products

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone health when you have Parkinson’s disease, but some research suggests that drinking several glasses of low-fat cow’s milk may not be the best option. Consuming low-fat dairy or skim milk more frequently appears to be associated with higher rates of Parkinson’s disease, but more research is needed.

Nondairy milks (such as rice, soy, or almond milk) can be a fine source of calcium and vitamin D if the product is fortified. Check the food label before purchasing, or consider a dietary supplement to cover your daily calcium and vitamin D requirements.

Sugar and Flour

Avoiding refined sugar and flour is a sound nutritional goal, regardless of whether you have Parkinson’s. Staying away from sugar may improve your sleep habits, reduce fatigue, reduce the risk of other health problems (such as diabetes and tooth decay), and lower your body’s overall inflammation levels.

Choose carbohydrate foods that are a natural source of fiber and antioxidants (such as whole grains, beans, and fruit) rather than empty-calorie desserts or drinks. If you choose to indulge, keep portions small to limit the impact of sugar on your body.

Alcohol

Although resveratrol in red wine is associated with some protective benefits for Parkinson’s disease, alcohol intake should be limited, and in some cases, avoided completely. Although studies haven’t found a significant link between alcohol consumption and the development of Parkinson’s disease, alcohol is known to impair motor control and may make you more prone to falls.

Learn more about Parkinson’s disease and alcohol.

Try These Healthy Swaps

To put the research into practice, focus on replacing some of the foods in your diet with healthier alternatives.

  • Instead of cow’s milk, try calcium-fortified soy milk.
  • Swap processed snack foods (like chips or pretzels) for nuts.
  • If you drink alcohol, have one to two glasses of red wine instead of other alcoholic beverages.
  • Buy seafood and tofu instead of red meat or poultry.
  • Instead of refined carbohydrates and sugar, go for high-fiber whole grains or naturally sweet berries.
  • Ditch saturated fats like butter and lard in favor of unsaturated fats like olive oil.

Navigating Motor-Skill and Swallowing Issues

Eating and preparing food when you have Parkinson’s isn’t always easy. Members of MyParkinsonsTeam discuss their hardships and solutions. One member wrote, “My tremors act up when I'm eating because of utensils. I’m having trouble with fine motor skills. When I'm tired, the tremors are worse.” In response, another member shared, “My physical therapist suggested using weighted eating utensils and also pens to help with eating and writing.”

For members of MyParkinsonsTeam with swallowing issues, one member suggested, “Eat more homemade soups. Take time chewing, sit up straight, or stand.”

It’s important to be proactive about working with your health care team to address these problems before they have a significant impact on your nutrition and well-being.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyParkinsonsTeam is the social network for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones. On MyParkinsonsTeam, more than 78,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.

Do you follow a special diet or have meal-planning tips? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyParkinsonsTeam.

Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Anastasia Climan is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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