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Accommodating Parkinson's Disease: Diet

Article on Parkinson's. January 29, 2018

In my last posts, I suggested that one key to living well with a serious disease like Parkinson's is to treat it as a life problem to be accommodated.

I also noted that experts are united in what's best for you: exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. But for many of us who don't go to the gym and perhaps eat too much of the things we shouldn't, these are radical lifestyle changes. Which means they won't get done. And they don't have to. Accommodating to the disease means tweaking our habits rather than uprooting our lives in wholesale changes.

Last week, I talked about exercise. Now let's turn to diet.

Improving your diet does not mean abandoning all those delicious things in your fridge to go bad and eating nothing but tofu and quinoa. Of course, if you feel ready to take such drastic action, go for it. But make sure your new diet covers all the nutritional requirements like fat and protein.

For the rest of us, let's look at some ways we can tweak our diets to make them healthier.

The principle is simple: eating well means eating more of what we should and less of what we shouldn't. So the starting point is to identify what you're eating and figure out what you need to cut down on and what you need to boost. There's a bit of work here at the start but bear with me.

Begin by making a list of everything you eat. Everything. Take a couple of weeks and every time you put something in your mouth with the purpose of ingesting it, write it down. Don't worry about quantities, just note what it is you're eating. If it's a combination dish like a casserole or lasagna, list the ingredients. If you made it, that will be easy. If not, consult the box it came in.

Now, after two weeks, go down your list and put a checkmark beside the things you know are good for you and an X beside those that aren't. And what's next? You guessed it: boost the checkmarks and trim the Xs. When you make a casserole, add another veggie—an eggplant or a zucchini—and cut the cheese in half. Hamburgers and hot dogs? Fine, but cut up a tomato or a cucumber and have it on the side, maybe with a touch of salad dressing you like.

But what about the problem foods: the chips and guacamole dip? Do you really have to give them up? No, but you probably should cut down. There are two strategies. First, eat less. Use smaller bowls. Alternatively, go ahead and pig out, but only one day a week. And make a deal with yourself that for every such day, you'll set aside another day for a new dish that's healthy. Something like ratatouille or bean salad. Don't know how to make them? The internet is a trove of recipes. Look them up.

Another great strategy is to pick a food you know is good for you but you've never—or rarely—cooked. For example, leafy green kale. Go online and search for kale recipes. You'll find something there that appeals to you. And in time, your diet will become a model of good eating. Plus the occasional pig-out day to maintain balance.