Balanced Diet

In this section we’ll give you some guidance about eating a balanced diet. Making some simple changes to your eating and drinking habits may help you manage your symptoms.

Should I follow a special diet?

This is a common query after a Parkinson’s diagnosis. To date, there is no evidence that one diet in particular can influence the course of the disease. However, a healthy and balanced diet can improve general well-being for everyone.

The basic rules for following a healthy diet are:

  • Eat a varied diet
  • Eat sensible sized portions
  • Get the right balance of food groups
  • Have regular meals
  • Ensure good hydration
  • Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

Eating a balanced diet will improve your health and may help to overcome issues you may be experiencing, such as constipation, low mood, reduced bone density and weight change. Eating frequent, small meals can also help reduce fluctuations in blood pressure.

How can I ensure good hydration?

Drinking enough fluid is important in itself, and will also help to alleviate constipation. You should aim to drink around 6 to 8 glasses every day.

Some patients may experience decreased thirst, and should develop a plan to maintain adequate fluid intake to counteract the dehydration associated with some medications. Carrying a water bottle and setting daily, specific goals for water drinking can help. Fruit juices and smoothies also count towards your daily fluid consumption, although they contain a lot of sugar and should be consumed with caution (especially for diabetic patients). 

If you have problems with your bladder and need the toilet frequently at night you may find it better to drink mainly in the morning or the earlier part of the day.

How can I adjust my diet to ensure regular bowel movements?

Constipation is very common in Parkinson´s disease due to decreased bowel movement. As well as drinking plenty of fluids, foods rich in fibre may ease the symptoms. Ideal foods include fruit, vegetables, pulses, lentils, wholegrain bread and cereals, but too much fibre can actually cause constipation, so it’s important to get the balance of fibre and fluid right.

Exercise is also beneficial as this helps to stimulate the bowels.

If you experience persistent constipation, consult your doctor.

What should I do if I am underweight or losing a lot of weight?

If you are underweight or have difficulty putting weight on, it may be because of the side effects of Parkinson’s medication or difficulties with chewing or swallowing.

It may also be due to practical problems, such as difficulty with food shopping, preparation or keeping your food hot while you are eating.

You may find the following tips useful:

  • Make the most of adding extras to foods, such as cream, butter, oil or honey where you can (depending on your personal health considerations). These will make the food more energy-dense and tasty.
  • Aim to have multiple small meals a day with a snack between each meal.
  • Try having a milkshake, malted drink or smoothie. These may be used to supplement your usual diet. But, if you find you are replacing your meals with these, it is important to seek help from a dietitian.

If you are finding it difficult to maintain your weight or to reach a healthy weight, your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse can refer you to a dietitian.

They may recommend tailored changes to your diet and special high-calorie products available on prescription.

What should I do if I am having eating and swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)?

Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing difficulties.

Some people with dysphagia have problems swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others can't swallow at all.

Some suggestions that may help you to eat easier:

  • Take your time and eat in a comfortable, quiet place
  • If you feel you are taking too long, and the food is getting cold, consider eating smaller, more frequent meals and snacks, or food that is easier to eat
  • Try eating sitting upright in your chair
  • Try to eat when you are not too tired and time meals so that your medication is working properly. This may mean moving your main meal to lunchtime rather than in the evening
  • Soften hard food with sauce or gravy
  • Wholemeal bread is less likely to get stuck around your mouth
  • Consider replacing bread with pasta or mashed potato

It is very important to talk to your doctor or your healthcare team as soon as you can if you have problems with swallowing, as they may refer you to specialists who can help.

A speech and language therapist, who works with people with swallowing problems, can offer information and suggest strategies to overcome some of the challenges you are experiencing.

Tips to cope with swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)

  • Avoid hard-to-digest foods (legumes, cabbage, very spicy or high-fat foods)
  • Avoid crumbly or fibrous foods (hard-boiled eggs, chewy meat) as well as foods with mixed consistency (e.g. stews or lumpy soup)
  • If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing, go for soft, bite-sized foods such as mashed potatoes, smooth yoghurt, or puddings
  • Take small mouthfuls and chew thoroughly
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