Written by Jane Busch, DDS
As a former dentist (DDS) who now is a person with Parkinson’s (PWP), I appreciate the need for optimal dietary habits that not only protect us from dental decay but also address key nutritional needs related to Parkinson's.
Snacks are important for people with Parkinson’s for a number of different reasons. They can be helpful for preventing nausea when taking certain Parkinson’s medications like Levodopa/Carbidopa, which often interacts with protein. Careful snacking can also help regulate blood sugar and prevent symptoms of lightheadedness, which can improve alertness and energy levels.
Judicious snacking can also be a way to minimize weight fluctuations. Some people living with Parkinson’s may experience weight loss, fatigue during meal times and difficulty consuming enough calories. Regular snacking can supplement these smaller meals throughout the day and ensure proper nutrition. For individuals that experience weight gain with certain medications or after undergoing surgical interventions, choosing snacks that satisfy hunger urges while minimizing unnecessary caloric intake can make a very significant difference.
If you have trouble swallowing or chewing, consult a speech therapist to address these important symptoms. A speech therapist can help to strengthen the appropriate muscles.
The following is a list of “dentist approved,” low-sugar snacks that are a good fit for people with Parkinson’s:
Smoothies not only contain rich nutrients and vitamins from fruits, they also quench a dry mouth, a common oral side effect of Parkinson's medications. Some people with Parkinson’s have eating difficulties and this simply goes down “smoothly.”
Smoothie Option 1:
- 1 cups of strawberries
- 2 kiwis (peeled)
- 2 TBSP white sugar
- 2 cups of ice
Smoothie Option 2:
- 1 banana
- 1 cup of strawberries
- ½ cup of vanilla yogurt
- ½ cup of milk
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 cup of ice
- Pinch of cinnamon
Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Many commercial granolas and trail mixes are high in calories and sugar. This granola reduces the amount of sweetener and eliminates the chocolate candies to minimize the amount of potentially cavity-inducing acid introduced to your mouth. This granola is composed primarily of oatmeal and bran flakes, both high fiber choices, which help prevent constipation. The nuts provide protein and preliminary studies show the added flaxseed may help fight heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. For texture, add this granola to yogurt in the morning for breakfast.
Jane’s Granola Recipe
- 4 C oatmeal (not instant)
- 2 C bran flake cereal
- ¼ C ground flaxseed
- ¼ C almond, sliced
- ¼ C walnuts, chopped
- ¼ C pecans, chopped
- ¼ C sunflower seeds
- ¼ C canola oil
- 1/3 C honey
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ¼ C dried cranberries (reserve until end)
Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl and mix. In a small bowl, combine the oil, honey and vanilla. Add the oil mixture to the dry oatmeal ingredients and stir. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray and spread mixture over the surface. Bake at 300° for 30 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet, break up the clumps, add dried cranberries, and store in a cookie tin to maintain freshness.
Fresh-cut vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumber, cauliflower, broccoli, mushroom and red pepper are wonderful sources of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. Pair vegetables with this spunky dip for a taste that will have you dancing the salsa.
Veggie Dip Recipe
- 1 pint sour cream
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- 1 cup of salsa
- 1 pkg Knorr vegetable soup mix
Combine all ingredients. This recipe is best if made the night before. Serve with cut-up vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms, or with tortilla chips.
Eggs are a smart way to get protein in your diet. Due to the interaction between Levodopa and protein, some people with Parkinson’s choose to limit the amount of protein they eat at meals. Eggs as a snack can help supplement your protein intake at a time of day that works better with your medication schedule.
Deviled Eggs Recipe
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved lengthwise
- ¼ C Miracle Whip salad dressing
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp mustard
- ½ tsp salt
- Dash of pepper
- Paprika to taste
Remove yolks from eggs and mash with a fork. Add Miracle Whip, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir until well combined. Fill 12 egg white halves evenly with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika.
All of the ingredients in Texas Caviar are nutrient rich, but the beans, corn and peas make this snack a home-run by sneaking in additional fiber. The tangy dressing wakes up the taste buds to quench sweet tooth cravings without any extra sugar. The ability to eat with your hands (using the tortilla chips) can make this snack a little easier to manage for individuals dealing with fine motor control issues. If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing the beans or other items in this recipe, you can easily mash or blend them without significantly changing the overall flavor.
Texas Caviar Recipe
- 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can black-eyed peas, drained
- 1 can white shoe-peg corn, drained
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 1 C celery, chopped fine
- 1 C red pepper, chopped fine
Mix all ingredients together a large bowl.
Texas Caviar Dressing Recipe
- ¾ C cider vinegar
- ¼ C olive oil
- ¾ C sugar
- 1 TBSP water
- 1 tsp salt
- Dash of pepper
Combine the dressing ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour dressing over Texas Caviar ingredients in the large bowl and stir. Marinate overnight. Drain before serving with tortilla chips (scoop style is best).
Chive & Caraway Cottage Cheese
Chives are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Caraway is often celebrated as a natural remedy for constipation, heartburn and nausea, and cottage cheese is a good source of calcium and protein. Subsequently, this makes for a healthy between-meal snack.
Chive & Caraway Cottage Cheese Recipe
- 1 16 oz. container of cottage cheese
- 2 TBSP fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1 TBSP caraways seeds
Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Hummus and Pita Chips
Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, provide protein, beneficial carbs and fiber. Like other members of the legume family, chickpeas are routinely recognized as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Eating a plant-based diet is associated with better cardiovascular health and may also have a positive influence on digestion. Garlic and olive oil are also both part of the famously healthy Mediterranean Diet.
- Two 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 1/3 C tahini, stirred well
- 5 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ C water
- ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
- Powdered cumin to taste, optional
Place the drained chickpeas, garlic and kosher salt in a food processor. Process for 20 to 30 seconds. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the tahini and process for another 15 seconds. Add the lemon juice and water and process for 20 seconds, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and process for another 20 seconds or until smooth. To serve, transfer the hummus to a bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with cumin if desired.
Brewed tea, especially green tea, can be a refreshing alternative to sodas and other sweetened drinks. In addition to a nice gentle boost of caffeine, green tea contains catechins, powerful antioxidants that fight and may even prevent cell damage. Green tea also contains l-theanine, which is associated with alertness, particularly when combined with caffeine. Add a slice of lemon or lime for a citrus splash and a touch of Vitamin C.
Green Tea Recipe
- 2 QT glass pitcher
- 2 QT water
- 2 green tea bags
- 1 lemon or lime
Fill a pitcher with water. Suspend tea bags in the pitcher and cover. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove teabags and serve tea over ice with a slice of lemon or lime.
Jane Busch, DDS, formerly practiced clinical dentistry and served as Director of Education for the Academy for Excellence in Dental Technology. Dr. Busch is a member of the American Dental Association. She serves as Vice-president on the Board of Directors for the American Parkinson Disease Association-Wisconsin Chapter and is the Founder and CEO of the LIFE Foundation, a community based health initiative and teaches a Parkinson dance fitness class. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008.