6 Healthy Eating Tips for Parkinson’s Disease
There are nearly 1 million people living in the US with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive disorder of the central nervous system that destroys vital nerve cells in the brain, resulting in impaired movement, tremors, stooped posture, and a loss of balance. The majority of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease reside in the 41-60+ age bracket, and while the cause of the disease is unknown, there are medications and surgeries that can help manage symptoms.
In addition, maintaining a healthy diet – with specific considerations for Parkinson’s – can also be a helpful and beneficial way to maintain quality of life and mitigate symptoms as much as possible. Check out six healthy eating tips:
1. Eat fresh, eat well, and eat often
In order to feel your best and keep you energy levels high, it’s important to eat fresh, fiber-rich healthy foods from all of the food groups (grains, vegetables, fruit, milk/dairy, and meat/beans). Eat prudently to maintain a healthy body weight, but also eat regularly (no skipping meals!) to help you maintain energy levels and feel better overall.
2. Ask for help
If you are struggling with depression that reduces your appetite, or you’re finding it physically difficult to shop or prepare meals, it may be time to ask your doctor, friends, or family for help. It’s helpful to have pre-made, healthy snacks handy at your home or when you’re on-the-go to ensure that you can make good choices at any time. Some medications may also impair your appetite, so be sure to share these types of observations with your doctor.
3. Watch out for constipation
Another reason to focus on fresh, fiber-rich foods is that Parkinson’s disease (and some of its related medications) tend to cause constipation. It may be embarrassing to discuss with your doctor, but it’s important that he or she is aware of any such side effects to help you manage the symptoms. Increased fiber-rich foods (whole grain bread, bran cereals or muffins, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes and prunes), plenty of water, and regular exercise can help you maintain bowel regularity.
4. Increase your calcium intake
Parkinson’s disease sufferers are also prone to osteoporosis, a disease caused by low bone-mineral density. You can combat this by increasing your intake of calcium, found naturally in dairy sources like milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as non-dairy sources like tofu, calcium-fortified soy-based beverages, orange juice and dark leafy greens. Vitamin D can also help maintain bone-mineral density; sunshine actually can offer your body helpful Vitamin D, along with fatty fish, fortified dairy and breakfast foods, or dietary supplements.
5. Monitor your symptoms
You should evolve your diet depending on where you are in the Parkinson’s disease progression, and eat to address any current physical symptoms and medications. For example, you may need to reprioritize your diet based on symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, bowel issues, or medication side effects. Again, it is always helpful to involve your doctor in these discussions, and possibly even consider consulting a registered dietitian to ensure you are getting a proper balance of nutrients and calories. Some medications are affected by the timing of consumption of protein, so while you should not cut out protein from your diet, you may need assistance working it into your meal plan to avoid such interactions.
6. Embrace superfoods
Finally, there are many “superfoods” or supplements that offer compelling testimony in helping manage Parkinson’s disease, but that, unfortunately, lack hard scientific evidence of widespread, repeatable improvement. That said, many of the foods and supplements in this category are beneficial to one’s overall health and do not cause any harm to a Parkinson’s disease sufferers, so they may be used as each person sees fit. These include: coffee; green tea; a variety of fruits and vegetables; foods rich in vitamin E such as wheat germ; nuts and seeds; and vegetable oil.
Just like any challenge of aging, a healthy diet can help us live longer, more satisfying lives, even when facing something like Parkinson’s disease. Maintaining a healthy framework allows your body to focus on fighting disease and side effects, and helps provide and convert the energy needed to make the most out of every day.