While there’s no categorical Parkinson’s disease diet, we do know that eating a diet that is rich in fresh, whole fruits and vegetables has been shown to be the best for brain health. There is no better season than the summertime to take advantage of all of those fresh, brain–healthy foods. Here is a breakdown of 8 of the top summertime brain foods:
1. Berries, berries, and more berries!
Berries are high in antioxidants, like flavonoids, which help to fight against oxidative stress in the brain. This means that they can actually be neuroprotective. A study published in the beginning of 2022 showed that men with Parkinson’s disease who had a diet that was filled with flavonoid-rich food, like berries, lived longer than those who did not. Other studies have shown improved cognitive health in people who eat more berries than those who do not. Besides the high levels of antioxidants, berries are high in fiber and vitamin C. You really can’t go wrong with a bowl full of berries!
2. Bell Peppers
Have you ever heard the saying, “Eat the Rainbow?” When it comes to bell peppers, you can do that! Each color offers slightly different nutrients and can add so much to summertime salads, soups, or sandwiches. They are full of vitamin C, beta carotene, and fiber, all of which are important for heart and brain health.
Did you know tomatoes are fruits, not vegetables? As it gets warmer, these summertime fruits become sweeter. They are a major source of lycopene, an antioxidant. Lycopene has been linked to improved cardiac health and reduced risk of some cancers, as well as providing anti-inflammatory effects for the brain. You can eat tomatoes fresh in salads or sandwiches or cook them in sauces, soups, or stews. Eating cold soups in the summertime, like gazpacho, is an easy way to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Especially if you experience swallowing challenges, using sweet tomatoes in summertime soups can offer variety while still being easy to eat.
Did you know corn is a whole grain? In the summertime, corn can be so sweet and offer a great way to add a whole grain to meals. Whole grains are an amazing way to add nutrients, with fiber, carotenoids (a powerful antioxidant), B vitamins, and vitamin E, all needed for ongoing brain health. Whole grains help to maintain a healthy gut, which may also affect the brain. Keep eating those whole grains and enjoy the sweet summertime corn while it’s here. Just be sure to be careful with the kernels if you struggle with swallowing.
One of the best things about watermelon is how much hydration it provides. Staying hydrated is very important through the hot weather and even more so with PD due to potential low BP issues and constipation. Between the high water concentration and the fiber, watermelon can be helpful to keep the gut moving. In addition, it provides vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants.
Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em, but mushrooms are an extremely brain healthy food. Some cultures use a lot of mushrooms while others do not, but they can be relatively easy to incorporate into food that you make at home. Try incorporating them in small portions into things like sauces or with meat (like in a hamburger patty) where you really won’t notice they are there.
Mushrooms are high in B vitamins, phosphorus, vitamin D. They have been linked with neuroprotection, with studies showing people who eat more mushrooms have lower rates of cognitive problems as they age. They are a great source of prebiotics for the gut, which means that they provide food for the GOOD bacteria of the gut to feed on.
As with many of the other fruits and vegetables discussed, cherries are a good source of vitamin C and the dark red color of some cherries is an indicator that they are high in antioxidants, specifically anthocyanins, which have neuroprotective effects. Tart cherries also contain natural melatonin, so drinking tart cherry juice (without added sugar) about an hour before bed has helped with sleep for some people. In addition, one study found that drinking cherry juice every day for 12 weeks improved verbal fluency and memory in older people with mild or moderate dementia.
8. Leafy Greens
While summertime is not known for being the best season to grow a lot of dark, leafy greens, collard greens are extremely hearty and can survive both cool and warm temperatures. Other dark leafy greens that are hearty and may be able to be found in summer include certain types of kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard and dandelion greens. These all offer vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. They also provide prebiotics for the gut and are known to be anti-inflammatory. Leafy greens are recommended on the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), which has been linked to a delay in Parkinson’s symptoms and lower rates of parkinsonism when followed closely.
There are so many delicious foods that are more readily available in the summertime! Take advantage of the fresh, whole foods and your brain and gut will thank you.
Remember, though, if you are going to make changes in your diet, make sure to do it slowly and under your doctor’s supervision.
Erin Presant, DO, CCMS, is a board certified Neurologist with fellowship training in Movement Disorders from Vanderbilt University. She has worked in both academic Neurology as well as private practice as a Movement Disorders Specialist and was co-owner of Central Coast Movement Disorders Specialists until 2019. More recently, she became certified through the Culinary Medicine Specialty Board as a Culinary Medicine Specialist and is the founder of The Medicine of Yum, where she educates people on Culinary Medicine and healthy lifestyle choices through virtual teaching kitchens and community outreach.