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Diet in Early Stages of PD

Tips on What to Eat

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Updated June 13, 2014

Diet in Early Stages of PD

Foods like spinach, nuts, and vegetables contain nutrients that may help reduce the loss of dopamine producing neurons.

Zsuzsanna Kilián/HAAP Media

In the early stages of Parkinson's disease (PD), no special dietary changes are typically required. You may want however to increase your intake of foods rich in antioxidants. 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 -- especially the darkly colored fruits and vegetables. 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 -- contains a lot of antioxidants. Red wine contains antioxidants. Dark juices like pomegranate and blueberry juices are rich in antioxidants.

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, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is probably a good idea to add fish to your diet if you are not already eating fish on a regular basis.

You also need to get adequate sources of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K to strengthen skin and bone. You can usually obtain these nutrients from dairy products like yogurt and milk. You need some amount of sunlight to get enough vitamin D.

Here are some ways to include these healthy foods in your diet:

  • Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries can be stirred into vanilla yogurt for a delicious dessert. Or they can be blended with fat-free yogurt and ice in a blender to make a smoothie. Fruit smoothies can also help prevent the constipation associated with some PD medications.
  • I never liked spinach that much until I found a way to combine it with foods I do like, such as salad or rice or scrambled eggs. Happily I like these combinations better than any of the stand alone alternatives. I stir chopped, fresh spinach, tossed in olive oil into my salads or into steamed brown rice. I also sometimes add raisins to that rice and spinach dish.
  • 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. I like my carrots steamed and then slowly cooked in the juices of whatever meat dish I am having.
  • Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and is found in some nuts 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. I get most of my vitamin E from whole grains. I cook and steam some whole grain like brown rice, cous cous or bulgur wheat. Then I add items like 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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