You don’t need to follow a special diet if you have Parkinson's disease. But the condition, which makes your body movements stiff or tough to control, can make it harder for you to eat well. But you need nutritious foods to keep up your strength and to make sure your Parkinson’s meds work as they’re supposed to.
It’s common for people with Parkinson’s to lose weight, have trouble swallowing and pooping, and feel nauseated from medications. Your doctor or a registered dietitian may be able to offer advice on the best ways to handle those issues.
How to Eat Well
Eat a variety of foods from each food category, like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. If you think you need vitamin supplements, check with your doctor first.
Keep your weight in the healthy range for your age and height with exercise and a good diet.
Load up on fiber with foods like broccoli, peas, apples, cooked split peas and beans, whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta.
Cut down on sugar, salt, and saturated fats from meat and dairy, and cholesterol.
Drink 8 cups of water every day.
Ask your doctor you can drink alcohol. It may keep your medications from working right.
Taking Your Drugs and Food Together
Levodopa is the best medication for Parkinson’s. Ideally, you should take it on an empty stomach, about 30 minutes before eating or at least one hour after a meal. But that can cause nausea in some people. Your doctor may prescribe something else or a different mix of drugs, which may not always make the nausea go away. In that case, your doctor may recommend you take medication for your side effects.
Also, ask your doctor if you should cut down on protein. In rare cases, a high-protein diet can make levodopa work less well.
To prevent or relieve nausea, try these tips:
Stick to clear or ice-cold drinks. Sugary drinks may calm your stomach better than other liquids.
Avoid orange and grapefruit juices and other acidic beverages.
Drink liquids between meals instead of during them.
Eat bland foods like saltine crackers or plain bread.
Avoid fried, greasy, or sweet foods.
Eat slowly, and eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Don’t mix hot and cold foods.
Eat cold or room-temperature foods to avoid getting nauseated from the smell of hot or warm foods.
Rest after eating, but keep your head upright. Activity may worsen nausea and may make you vomit.
Don’t brush your teeth after eating.
If you wake up feeling nauseated, eat some crackers before you hop out of bed. Before bedtime, try a high-protein snack like lean meats or cheese.
Try to eat when you’re less nauseated.
Thirst or Dry Mouth
Some Parkinson's medications may make you feel parched. You might try these tips for relief:
Drink at least 8 cups of liquid each day. Some people with Parkinson's also have heart problems and may need to watch their fluid levels. Check with your doctor about how much you need to drink.
Limit caffeine from coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate as it can interfere with some of your meds and make you thirstier.
Soften breads, toast, cookies, or crackers. You can dunk them in milk or decaffeinated tea or coffee.
Sip a drink after each bite of food to moisten your mouth and help you swallow.
Add sauces to foods to make them soft and moist. Try gravy, broth, sauce, or melted butter.
Eat sour candy or fruit ice to help make more saliva and moisten your mouth.
Stay away from most mouthwashes, which often contain alcohol that can dry your mouth. Ask your doctor or dentist if there’s anything else you should do.
Ask your doctor about prescription artificial saliva.
Eating When You’re Tired
If you don’t have energy for meals later in the day, you can:
Pick foods that are easy to fix, and save your energy for eating. If you live with your family, let them help you make your meal.
Look into a delivery service. Some grocery stores have them. Or you can check if you might be able to get food delivered from your local Meals on Wheels program for free or for a small fee.
Keep healthy snack foods on hand, like fresh fruit and vegetables or high-fiber cold cereals.
Freeze extra portions of what you cook so you have a quick meal when you feel worn out.
Rest before you eat so you can enjoy your meal. And eat your biggest meal early in the day to fuel yourself for later.
When You Have No Appetite
Some days, you just may not feel like eating at all.
Talk to your doctor. Sometimes, depression can cause poor appetite. Your hunger likely will return when you get treatment.
Walk or do another light activity to rev up your appetite.
Drink beverages after you’ve finished eating so you don’t feel full before the meal.
Include your favorite foods in your menu. Eat the high-calorie foods on your plate first. But avoid empty calories from sugary sodas, candies, and chips.
Perk up your meals by trying different dishes and ingredients.
Choose high-protein and high-calorie snacks, including:
- Ice cream
- Granola bars
- Nachos with cheese
- Crackers with peanut butter
- Cereal with half and half
- Greek yogurt
Stay at a Healthy Weight
Malnutrition and weight loss are often problems for people with Parkinson’s. So it’s good to keep track of your weight.
Weigh yourself once or twice a week, unless your doctor says to do it more often. If you are taking diuretics or steroids, such as prednisone, you should step on the scale daily.
If you gain or lose weight noticeably (2 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week), talk to your doctor. They may want change your food and drinks to manage your condition.
If you need to gain weight:
Ask your doctor if nutritional supplements are right for you. Some can be harmful or interfere with your medication.
Avoid low-fat or low-calorie foods unless you’ve been told otherwise. Instead, use whole milk, whole milk cheese, and yogurt.