What to Eat When You Have Parkinson's Disease

Learn Healthy Diet Tips for Eating Well with Parkinson's

Spinach and Salmon Recipes. Credit: Chicago Tribune / Contributor / Getty Images

In the early stages of Parkinson's disease (PD), there's no special diet you need to follow. That being said, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables may generally enhance your health.

Eat More Antioxidant-Rich Foods

You may want to eat more antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants are those chemicals that scavenge and eat-up so-called ‘free radicals’ –- tiny molecules that circulate in your tissues and damage those tissues.

Free radicals have a special affinity for cells that produce dopamine. So the greater the number of antioxidants in your system, the fewer the number of circulating free radicals. Theoretically that should reduce the rate of loss of dopamine cells over time.

So what foods contain a lot of antioxidants? Fruits and vegetables -- get a variety, since fruits and vegetables have different phytonutrients depending on their color. Some examples include leafy green vegetables (such as spinach), broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, red kidney beans, pinto beans, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, plums and apples. Tea -- especially green tea and black tea -- and coffee contain a lot of antioxidants. Red wine contains antioxidants (keep in mind guidelines for moderate drinking). Dark juices like pomegranate and blueberry juices are rich in antioxidants.

Get Omega-3s in Your Diet

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient for most tissues in your body so you want to make sure to consume adequate amounts of these nutrients.

Fatty fish like mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Eating fish at least twice a week is recommended for optimum health. If you don't eat fish, consider taking a fish oil supplement.

Other Nutrients to Focus on

Adequate amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K help to strengthen skin and bone. You can get these nutrients from dairy products like yogurt and milk. Vitamin D can be hard to get strictly through diet. Your body makes it when you're in the sun, or your doctor might recommend a vitamin D supplement. 

How to get More Healthy Foods in Your Diet

  • Stir blueberries, raspberries and blackberries can be stirred into vanilla yogurt for a delicious dessert. Or blend them with yogurt and ice to make a smoothie. Fiber-filled fruit smoothies can also help prevent the constipation associated with some PD medications.
  • Add spinach to scrambled eggs and other dishes. Stir chopped, fresh spinach, tossed in olive oil into salads or into steamed brown rice.
  • Carrots are loaded with a potent antioxidant called beta-carotene. Cooked, steamed or pureed carrots liberate the antioxidants or somehow make them easier to absorb. Cooked carrots are often more tasty as well. 
  • Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and is found in some nuts and in whole grains. Although studies on the anti-PD effects of vitamin E have yielded only discouraging or mixed results, vitamin E should nevertheless be a part of your diet. Cook whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa or bulgur wheat. For variety, add raisins or cranberries, chopped parsley or spinach, and olive oil.

    Sources:

    Weiner, W. J., Shulman, L.M. and Lang, A. E. (2007). Parkinsons Disease, Second Edition, A Complete guide for patients and families. Johns Hopkins Press Book, Baltimore.

    Marczewska A, De Notaris R, Sieri S, Barichella M, Fusconi E, Pezzoli G. Protein intake in Parkinsonian patients using the EPIC food frequency questionnaire. Movement Disorder. 2006 Aug;21(8):1229-31.

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