Eating Your Herbs: Nutrients for your Nervous System

I always notice a bit of a change in the air this time of year.   We are slowly but surely edging towards Spring but we aren’t quite there yet and it always seem as though nerves fray just a little bit more easily.   I thought I might offer a bit of advice as to how to eat your way to a healthier nervous system.
Nutrition plays a vital role in a healthy nervous system but before you even think about what foods to eat, you should look at your eating patterns.   Are you skipping meals while taking in large amounts of stimulants or sugars?   These eating patterns need to be addressed before you can move on.   You need to eat enough to provide your body with the foods you need.  It is almost impossible to do this with two meals a day so your body begins to crave foods that will give it that quick energy fix. Unfortunately in our society,  candy bars and coffee are far more available than a leafy green salad or a whole-grain snack.  You have to plan a bit more to provide yourself with healthy alternative but it is completely worth the effort.   Once you address your eating patterns, you can begin to look at the nutrients your body needs to properly support your nervous system.

Calcium intake is key to  healthy nervous system functioning  due to the fact that Calcium molecules are vital to the chemical reactions that take place in your body to transmit nerve impulses and muscle movement.    Thankfully calcium is easily found in many foods and herbs.   Obviously dairy products contain a good deal of calcium but you can also find calcium in many non-dairy products.  Seaweeds contain the highest level of calcium available; even more than dairy products.    In fact, most dark leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach and parsley also contain calcium.    Oats and almonds are high in calcium which is one of the reasons I use those two ingredients when making homemade oat milk.  Sesame seeds and tahini are good sources, as well.  Herbal sources of calcium include: nettle, comfrey, horsetail, oatstraw/milky oat tops, dandelion greens, and chickweed.
B Vitamins are also important to a healthy nervous system but it is important to note that there is too much of a good thing.  Taking large doses of B vitamins (specifically B12)  can lead to anxiety attacks and panic disorders.   In other words, taking those high dosage “stress tabs”  may lead to an increase in symptoms you are trying to alleviate.    It is also important to note that B vitamins are best taken in as a “complex”.  High dosages of one B vitamin invariably lead to a deficiency of another.  I think that the complexity of B vitamin supplementation may be one of the main reasons I choose to eat my vitamins rather than take pills.  Nature seems to naturally understand what our bodies need and nutrients present in foods are often combined more precisely than we could ever hope to accomplish with supplements.   Thankfully B vitamins are present in so many wholesome foods that I rarely worry if I am getting enough.   Whole grains such as whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and barley are wonderful sources of vitamin B, as are dried beans.  Yogurt, molasses, wheat germ and kefir contain.   Vegetable sources of Vitamin B include most leafy green vegetables,fresh sprouts, and seaweeds.  There are a few other specialty sources of B vitamins that can be included in your diet such as bee pollen, spirulina and nutritional yeast. Bee pollen is an amazing nutrient which I should devote a whole blog entry to, but I do worry about our dwindling bee population and the availability of this nutrient.   Consequently,  I use it sparingly and with a great deal of respect for the creatures who created it in mind. Herbal sources of vitamin B include:  comfrey, parsley, dandelion greens and nettles (Do you begin to see why nettles are always a part of my nourishing infusions?)

Vitamin C mixes with vitamin B-6 to create serotonin so it is important to make sure that you are getting an adequate supply.  Papaya, bell peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, broccoli and cauliflower are all good food sources of vitamin C.   My favorite herbal source of Vitamin C is rosehips but there are many others.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary  for calcium absorption which is created in your body when you absorb UVB rays.  These UVB rays are most readily available between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.  Exposure times no longer than 10-15 minutes two or three times a week are adequate.  Still, many Americans don’t get outside as much as we should during the mid-day hours so dairy food is often enriched with vitamin D.    The body does store vitamin D for use during the winter but how much vitamin D your body produces is entirely contingent on the amount of UVB rays your skin absorbs and how much you get in your daily diet.   This can be tricky because there is no plant source of vitamin D.   Sources of vitamin D,  we incorporate into our DAILY diet include:  tuna, eggs, salmon, organic milk and yogurt.  Regardless, of what you might hear, cheese  and butter do not necessarily have Vitamin D so check your labels.    In  the Northern Hemisphere where the UVB rays can’t penetrate the atmosphere well, if at all, from November to February,   it is important to think about Vitamin D supplementation.   For all that I am not a fan of supplements, there is a time to be wise.  If you get little exposure to UVB rays and you are not eating foods which contain Vitamin D,  you might want to consider a supplement.  A good source of vitamin D is cod-liver oil which just goes to show that Grandma might have known what she was doing, after all.

Here are a couple of quick recipes I enjoy which seem to take the edge off of a bad mood.   Many of the recipes I included in my Herbs for Energy post serve a double purpose of providing some of these nutrients as well.  Hopefully, I don’t use too many smoothie recipes for everyone but I find them to be the easiest way for most people to incorporate healthier foods in their grab-and-dash lifestyle.   Keep in mind that an insulated coffee mug keeps things cold as well as it keeps things hot.   Either one of these drinks would make a complete breakfast.

Stressbuster Smoothie

1/2 cup almond-oat milk

1/2 cup  yogurt

1/2 cup raspberries and strawberries

1/4 cup wheat germ

1 teaspoon bee pollen

Avocado Milkshake

1 ripe avocado

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup almond milk

3 tablespoons honey or grade B maple syrup

1 tsp carob powder (optional)

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