Parkinson's Diet: 4 Nutritional Tips For Your Senior Loved One

Robert C. Fisher

When acting as a caregiver for someone with Parkinson’s Disease, it’s important to recognize the health benefits of a balanced diet.

A patient with an informed, specific diet may experience fewer side effects of Parkinson’s disease and slower neurodegeneration. When paired with dietary supplements, physical activity, and appropriate medication (such as Levodopa) as guided by a physician, a nutritional diet can truly improve the quality of life for a patient with Parkinson’s disease.

There is no one specific diet that acts as a catchall for Parkinson’s.

However, the Parkinson’s Foundation encourages a balanced diet and suggests that it helps with the effectiveness of other treatments while alleviating motor symptoms and slowing disease progression

Whether the patient may benefit from weight loss (or avoiding weight loss) or simply some specific dietary changes, caregivers who consult a dietitian on the impact of nutrition on symptoms of Parkinson’s are sure to find aid in their care plan.

The Importance of a Healthy Diet for Brain Health

For Parkinson’s disease patients, a healthy diet can address typical PD symptoms like constipation and weight loss while improving overall well-being. At the same time, caregivers should consider the difficulties that come with the progression of Parkinson’s, the maintenance of a healthy weight, and the use of Parkinson’s medications.

Some patients may have difficulty swallowing or handling their food. Consider foods and serving methods that can aid your loved one in getting the nutrition they need.

Parkinson’s medications like Levodopa are meant to be taken on an empty stomach. However, this may cause discomfort for some patients.

Consult a dietitian to consider what approach may be best for your loved one, whether that means them taking medicine on an empty stomach or with a small snack. Avoid your loved one from pairing Levodopa with high-protein foods.

While high-protein foods such as fava beans contain Levodopa, they do not provide enough to be considered a significant nutrient source.

4 Nutritional Tips to help your Loved One with Parkinson’s

A healthy lifestyle that includes diet, exercise, and sleep can help improve one's overall general well-being.

Here are the four tips to help your loved one with Parkinson's: 

1. Encourage them to take supplements

Supplements that provide calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, or omega-3 fatty acids may be effective in alleviating symptoms or slowing the progression of PD.

However, consult your loved one’s physician before implementing any dietary supplements into their s plan of care. Every Parkinson’s patient will have specific needs according to their body.

2. Implement the major food groups into their diet 

Consider the major food groups such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Finding healthy ways to meet the daily recommended servings of these groups, along with a healthy calorie intake, will help to establish a healthy diet for your loved one withParksinon’s disease.

  • Carbohydrate-rich foods such as cereals, legumes, and bread will help alleviate constipation by providing high levels of fiber

    • A diet high in sodium may contribute to hypertension, so monitor sodium levels in the PD patient’s diet.

    • Hydration, along with yellow mustard and tonic water, may alleviate cramping.

    • Foods high in antioxidants contribute to overall health, including red wine, dark chocolate, nuts, and more.

    • Lowering consumption of red meat, typically associated with the Mediterranean diet, contributes to overall health.

More specific advice on diets for Parkinson’s patients can be found at the Parkinson’s Foundation and The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Always consult a physician before implementing major diet changes.

3. Introduce each nutritional change slowly and patiently

Implementing a healthier diet is a difficult and often intimidating task. However, by taking one step at a time, the caregiver can walk with the PD patient as they move toward a diet that is better for their condition and general health.

It’s important to understand how Parkinson’s may affect a patient’s overall appetite. If a patient is experiencing anxiety or depression, this may contribute to a lower appetite.

Consider foods that help increase appetite (bitter greens, spicy meals), and fill each meal with nutrient-rich foods to make the most of the food your loved one can eat. Consider filling meals with healthy and filling fats, such as nuts and olive oil.

Motor symptoms may increase the difficulties associated with eating, and the caregiver may feel unequipped to address these challenges appropriately.

Consider working with an occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist who can aid the patient in motor function and swallowing.

4. Encourage your loved one to avoid unhealthy foods & drinks

The number one priority for a caregiver is to empathize with their loved one and stay informed as to the best plan of care to implement

Should it become more difficult to understand your loved one’s current mood or situation, avoid resorting to anger, frustration, impatience, or apathy?

As their caregiver, simply inform and encourage your loved one to avoid the following:

  • Avoid high consumption of sugars. Foods high in sugar lack nutritional value, are high in calories, and can have many other negative effects on nutritional and dental health.

    • Avoid foods high in sodium to decrease the risk of high blood pressure and hypertension.

    • Avoid saturated fats and cholesterol—foods rich in these substances contribute to heart disease, the risk for cancer, and unnecessary weight gain.

    • Avoid high alcohol intake. Consult a doctor on the effect of alcohol on the patient’s medication plan to avoid unwanted side effects from mixing alcohol with the medication.

    • Avoid pairing iron supplements with Levodopa. Consider taking iron a few hours after Levodopa to encourage maximum absorption.

    • Avoid dehydration. When a PD patient is low on fluids, they are at risk for motor and balance problems, kidney issues, and fatigue. Be aware that many Parkinson’s medications can dehydrate patients and provide many opportunities for fluid intake throughout the day.

How to Make Changes to your Loved One’s Diet?

Help your loved one make one informed change at a time.

Every step of the way, consult trustworthy research alongside your loved one’s care team of doctors and therapists to plan meals and menus for the PD patient. Don’t pressure your loved one with Parkinson’s into making every dietary change immediately.

Instead, patiently implement accessible changes to create a sustainable, accessible diet that equips them with what they need.

A healthy diet may not alleviate every challenge that comes with Parkinson’s disease. Still, considering the best foods for a PD patient can help a caregiver lessen symptoms and slow neurodegeneration.

A balanced diet adjusted to the patient’s medication plan will provide a higher quality of life while accounting for the individual challenges of each PD patient.