December 15, 2023

Impact of Diet on Parkinson's Disease

Women Holding Wrist


Parkinson's Disease (PD) is a systemic disease that affects a substantial number of adults in the United States. Over 1 million US adults are afflicted with this disease and the number of people being diagnosed with PD every year is on the rise.  It is expected that PD diagnosis will reach 1.2 million adults by 2030. PD is not curable, but current research suggests that diet may play a key role in the development and management of the disease.  Individuals diagnosed with PD tend to have a lower diet quality and tend to eat more added sugar than those without the disease. The accumulation of neural proteins in the brain, oxidative stress, inflammation, and imbalance in the gut are key contributors to PD. This article will review what is currently known about the relationship between diet and Parkinson's Disease. 

Historically, general dietary recommendations are difficult to make for patients with PD as the associations with this disease and diet are just now being understood. There are some emerging themes in research that are suggesting specific changes in diet for PD patients to slow down symptom progression. Adopting a generally healthy diet that is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may improve the quality of life for individuals with PD.  An anti-inflammatory diet includes eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and eating less added sugar and salt.  Anti-inflammatory diets have been shown to reduce fatigue, depression, and oxidative stress occurring in the body due to PD.  Research is suggesting that overall diet quality is more important than eating, or avoiding, specific foods. 

Moderating the amount of protein eaten due to medication interaction is a concern for some patients with PD.  Dietary amino acids found in protein foods interact with Levodopa, a common medication used to treat PD.  Despite this, it is important to only moderate protein intake instead of restricting it. Weight loss is a major concern for PD patients and eating too little protein could make weight loss worse and accelerate disease progression. Using a protein redistribution diet may be helpful for some patients of PD, consulting a medical professional to learn more about this technique, and if it would be helpful is suggested. Plant sources of protein are considered the best sources because they also contain antioxidants that are part of an anti-inflammatory diet. 

Pen Pointing at Brain

An additional area of dietary concern is connected to another medication used to treat PD.  Individuals with PD produce less dopamine because some of the cells in their brain that produce dopamine die. A common medication taken by PD patients increases dopamine production from healthy brain cells to mimic typical brain function and reduce PD symptoms. This medication increases the dopamine in the brain and improves muscle and nerve function, but it also creates craving for foods that are high in added sugars.  If individuals with PD eat larger amounts of high sugar and trans-fat foods it is likely that the intensity and progression of PD symptoms will increase, reversing the beneficial effects of the medication.

Also, the state of gut health is starting to emerge as a major theme in PD symptom management. New research is suggesting that individuals with PD have different types of gut bacteria than those without PD. This preliminary research suggests that individuals with PD tend to eat more fat, particularly saturated fat, which creates low grade inflammation in the body and increases oxidative stress. Stress and inflammation increase the risk for development of PD and worsening symptoms of the disease over time. There is good evidence that improved gut health can improve symptom severity and disease progression. The best way to improve the health of our gut bacteria is to eat foods with high amounts of fiber like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Taking probiotic supplements can also improve GI symptoms, relieve constipation, improve motor skills, and reduce anxiety and depression.

The types of food eaten regularly can improve gut health and decrease the intensity of PD symptoms. Following a Mediterranean (MED) or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet may have the greatest impact on PD symptoms and disease progression. Both diets emphasize eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables which are high in antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C. Individuals that follow the MED or MIND dietary patterns most of the time have a lower risk of developing PD and less severe symptoms for those diagnosed with the disease. These diets focus on eating more olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and wine. The MIND diet puts an extra emphasis on eating green leafy vegetables, berries, and beans.

While research on the relationship between diet and Parkinson's Disease is ongoing, adopting a balanced, antioxidant-rich, and anti-inflammatory diet may improve symptoms and overall quality of life for individuals with PD. Further research is needed to create a dietary pattern specific to the treatment of PD. However, the recommendations made in this article are healthy for everyone but may have a more significant effect on individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. 

Take Away Recommendations:

Eat less:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Added sugar
  • Red meat
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Refined pastries
  • Fried foods 

Eat more:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Olive Oil

Eat in moderation:

  • Legumes (Velvet and Fava beans)
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dairy Products

Sample Menu:  This menu is a tool to provide you with ideas on the types of foods that fit in a MED or MIND diet.  Changing your diet will be more successful if you introduce a few of these foods into your diet at a time.  Don’t be afraid to substitute some of your favorite foods that fit this dietary pattern! 










Cooked oats

Raspberries or Blueberries

Low-fat milk

Almond Whole Wheat Toaster Waffles with berries

Veggie and cheese scramble

Whole wheat toast

Whole grain pancakes with blueberry compote

Low-sugar granola


Low-fat yogurt

Blueberry overnight oats

With low-fat milk

Muffin tin egg bites


Raw Veggies and Hummus

Apples and peanut butter

Roasted Squash or Pumpkin Seeds

Nut and dried fruit trail mix

Tuna and whole grain crackers

Pomegranate seeds

Crunchy chickpeas


Curried chicken salad sandwich

Sweet potato and black bean quesadilla

Hummus avocado whole-wheat toast

Chicken spinach salad

Italian bean salad with fava beans


Egg salad sandwich on whole grain bread


Kale and spinach salad with Grilled salmon


Dark chocolate and nut mix

Strawberries and Greek yogurt

Nut butter energy bites

Guacamole and whole grain crackers


Cucumbers and cottage cheese

Flavored popcorn


White Chicken Chili with Spinach-walnut salad

Mahi Mahi Tacos

With marinated coleslaw  

Black bean chipotle burrito bowl with roasted cauliflower


Shrimp sheet pan bake with sweet potatoes and Brussell sprouts

Grilled lemon chicken breast with Pomegranate feta salad

Three Bean and Beef Chili

Sweet potato black bean soup

Whole grain toast


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April Litchford

April Litchford

Extension Assistant Professor | Nutrition and Food | Box Elder County

Family & Consumer Sciences

Phone: 435-695-2544

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