The Must-Knows About the Mediterranean Diet for Parkinson’s
Last updated: January 2022
It’s not another fad diet but a time-tested lifestyle! The Mediterranean diet for Parkinson’s is consistently suggested by dietitians as a preventative and therapeutic approach to disease management.
While it’s commonly known for its heart-healthy and diabetes-friendly benefits, the Mediterranean diet has also shown neuroprotective properties, making it a positive fuel choice for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Check out how the Mediterranean diet can help you eat your best with a brain-boosting approach to mealtime.
What is it?
It’s a lifestyle adopted from the dietary habits of Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, Greece, and Spain. This plant-forward approach to eating consists of meals rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.1
It also includes moderate consumption of fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry. In contrast to the American diet, red meat and sweets are infrequently consumed.1
Unlike the saturated fat primarily found in the typical American diet, the Mediterranean diet prioritizes heart-healthy alternatives. It heavily relies on olive oil - a monounsaturated fat that can improve cholesterol levels.
Fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are also widely consumed. These options are rich in omega-3s, which can help improve chronic inflammation, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function.1,2
What are the benefits?
Research shows that foods consumed in the Mediterranean diet, combined with minimal intake of sugar-containing beverages, may lead to both a healthier and larger brain with age progression. 3,4
It’s also rich in micronutrients and phytonutrients — plant-based compounds that help combat inflammation, oxidative stress, and decrease the risk of disease. Specifically, phytonutrients can help protect cognitive function by reducing amyloid accumulation, which negatively impacts neurons, the working units of the brain.5
Then, with a pronounced inclusion of omega-3 rich ingredients, the Mediterranean diet may also provide protective benefits against Parkinson’s disease due to its docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content. DHA may result in neuroprotective properties by combating oxidative stress and reducing dopaminergic cell death.6
The truth of the matter is that the Mediterranean diet helps people with Parkinson’s disease from head to toe. Along with the cognitive benefits, this lifestyle may help alleviate constipation - one of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.7
After all, pooping shouldn’t be this hard. But the high-fiber nature of the Mediterranean diet may help stimulate bowel function, improve gastrointestinal health, and boost immune function.
Reducing red meat consumption
However, it’s not only about the foods included in the Mediterranean diet, but also about those that get minimized. For instance, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes a rare consumption of red meat.
While more research is needed, some studies show an association between high red meat intake and incidence of Parkinson’s disease. It has been speculated that the improper digestion of the heme content, specifically found in red meat, may increase free radical production, ultimately leading to mitochondrial damage.6
Easy ways to implement the diet
Okay, you are sold on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and want to give it a try. But doing a complete mealtime overhaul may feel overwhelming. Don’t fret! As the saying goes, "Rome wasn’t built in a day."
Whatever your starting point may be, making small positive changes are still steps in the right direction. If you are new to the Mediterranean game, check out these easy-to-implement ways I tell my clients to embrace this lifestyle.
Minimize animal products
While the Mediterranean diet still includes moderate consumption of lean meats, it’s not the star of the show. Instead, give the spotlight to vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds to reach nutritional needs.
Try a new recipe
If fish doesn’t float your boat, perhaps you simply haven’t found a variety or recipe that connects with your tastebuds. Look through your favorite recipe book to find one that makes your mouth water.
Fish tacos anyone? Or adjust a meal in your recipe Rolodex to include fish. Don’t forget to experiment with different food preparation methods to find your favorite. There is a fish for everyone!
Substitute saturated fats
Skip the butter and try olive oil. This simple switch adds a burst of wholesome nutrition and flavor to any dish. Use it on vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, and more.
My favorite is popcorn drizzled with cold-pressed olive oil sprinkled with parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast with pepper – bellissimo!
Go with garlic
Mediterranean cuisine is no stranger to vibrant flavors. Create dishes that your tastebuds will love by incorporating garlic or a variety of herbs and spices. Garlic may serve as a brain-boosting ingredient that protects against neurological disfunction and signs of aging.8
Its high-sulfur content can also help improve glutathione production, which may help detoxify the body and help protect against Parkinson’s disease. Garlic provides benefits well worth the less than desired breath.9
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