Many people with Parkinson’s experience severe and sometimes debilitating fatigue. In fact, research shows fatigue in Parkinson's is the single most important reason people cite when they apply for disability. Eating strategically to keep blood sugar steady throughout the day can help to keep fatigue at bay.
BLOOD SUGAR AND ENERGY LEVELS
Every cell in the human body relies on sugar (glucose) for energy. When blood sugar rises, the body produces a hormone (insulin) to ferry glucose out of the blood stream and into cells. When blood sugar drops, the body secretes different hormones to raise it. In this way, our blood-sugar and hormone levels are in constant flux, ensuring our cells’ access to glucose. But drastic swings in blood sugar levels sap us of energy, leading to lethargy and fatigue.
CARBOHYDRATE QUALITY AND THE GLYCEMIC INDEX
As we continue to learn about the role of nutrition in health, it has become clear that the quality of the nutrients we ingest - not just the amount - matters. While imperfect, the Glycemic Index can be useful for characterizing the nutritional quality of a given carbohydrate.
The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks carbohydrate-containing foods (and beverages) on a scale from 0 to 100 according to their potential to boost blood sugar. High GI foods cause sharp spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods with a low GI are generally digested and absorbed more slowly, and therefore cause a gentler rise in blood sugar and insulin. See how different carbohydrates stack up on this Glycemic Index Reference Chart.
High GI foods include starchy vegetables and highly processed carbohydrates (think: sugar-sweetened beverages, chips, white bread) – in short, the ones we already know aren’t beneficial for our health. By contrast, low GI foods tend to be fiber-rich fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes and minimally or un-processed whole grains.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
By making small and deliberate adjustments to your diet, you may be able to stabilize your blood sugar levels and get some of your groove back.
1. Incorporate low glycemic index foods into your diet
Reduce your intake of high GI foods in favor of whole fruits, vegetables, legumes and minimally processed grains. Try substituting brown rice for white, steel-cut oatmeal for instant and beans for potatoes. Or, if you’re having a high GI food – say, cornflakes or instant oatmeal – throw in a handful of berries to reduce its glycemic load.
2. Add protein to meals and snacks
Because protein slows the body’s absorption of carbohydrates, it helps level out blood sugar. Fish, lean meat, beans, eggs and low-fat dairy are all healthy protein sources. To incorporate more protein in your diet, top your salad with a hard-boiled egg or blend a little protein powder into your morning smoothie.
3. Be prepared
Healthy snacks help stabilize blood sugar between meals. Plan ahead to ensure you have access to healthy snacks when you need them. An apple, a handful of nuts or a cup of plain yogurt are all easy to have on hand, and portable for when you’re on the go.
Learn More About How Nutrition Affects Parkinson's
A diet that’s rich in whole grains, lean protein, and fibrous fruits and vegetables is useful for fighting fatigue and may also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, all of which help you live well today with Parkinson’s.
How have you found different foods affect your energy levels? Consider logging your diet and making notes about how you feel after eating and between meals. Let your experiences help guide you to make healthy modifications to your diet.