· By Caitlin Bray
What Foods Help Calm the Nervous System?
They don’t call it the “nervous” system for nothing. When our system isn’t quite where it should be, it can result in a whole host of both physical and mental side effects. Although we know how important this system is, people aren’t often aware of what they can do to help calm and balance themselves without relying on prescription medication.
Balancing your body with food in a holistic way is not only possible, but it’s also much easier than you may think.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is considered the “command center” of the body. It originates in the brain, and basically controls every single thing that we think, say, feel, or do. It even controls other important functions in the body, like digestion, sexual development, and breathing.
Without our nervous system, we couldn’t blush, blink, sleep, or move. To say it’s essential is a huge understatement.
The system is made up of two main components -- the CNS (central nervous system) and the PNS (peripheral nervous system). The CNS is the brain and spinal cord, while the PNS is made up of all the individual nerves, as well as the smaller but still as-important SNS (somatic nervous system) and ANS (autonomic nervous system).
When it comes to anxiety, it’s mostly the SNS responsible as it’s the system behind our “fight or flight” response.
To keep the nervous system healthy, it’s important to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet full of foods and supplements that can keep us running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Moderating alcohol usage (which can also make anxiety worse all on its own) is also a largely beneficial step to take towards a calmer nervous system.
The only non-vegan food item on the list, fish has earned its place for good reason.
The nerves of the nervous system are covered in a protective coating called a myelin sheath. The composition of these sheaths is water, protein, and a large amount of lipids (fats). When broken down even further, these lipids aren’t just any fats, they’re fatty acids.
That’s where fish and their omega-3 fatty acids come in.
For people deficient in these fatty acids, the myelin sheaths can actually begin to degrade. With how important our nerves are for effective communication between our brain and the rest of our body, this can be a big problem.
In fact, omega-3s also have the added benefit of improving nerve transmission and increasing the amount of dopamine and serotonin, which naturally calm and relax both the nervous system as well as the entire physical body.
Without dopamine and serotonin at the right levels, you are far more likely to feel anxious.
To fix this, aim to eat at least two servings of fish a week. One of those servings should come specifically from an “oily” fish like salmon, trout, tuna, and swordfish.
If you don’t eat fish or are allergic, supplements exist that provide the same amount of fatty acids from other natural sources like flax seed, walnuts, avocado, and hempseed oil.
Whey has been on the radar for health enthusiasts for decades. It comes in the form of a powder, and can be added to almost anything -- smoothies, pancakes, yogurt, coffee, and more.
Whey is essentially protein, a powder made of amino acids. It comes from the liquid that gets left behind when milk is converted into cheese (the other portion being casein). The reason it is so effective at helping support the nervous system is that proteins, and amino acids, are the “building blocks” of muscle tissue. Whey is specifically made of three amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, and valine.
While whey is amazing for building strong, healthy muscle, it is also helpful for other parts of the nervous system. It can increase energy, improve mental focus, and help fight stress. It also helps boost immunity, which can often be a major issue when it comes to those with chronic levels of stress. It may also be able to help elevate the level of serotonin in the brain, which will help control anxiety and calm the mind.
Bananas are often referred to as a “brain food.” It is full of different amino acids, minerals, and vitamins that help the brain function smoothly, like vitamin B6, and magnesium.
B6, specifically, helps improve cognitive function. It is recommended that you get between 1.1 to 1.7 milligrams of vitamin B6 every day for optimal function, and a banana has 0.5 milligrams of that. When combined with magnesium, which helps with focus (bananas have an impressive 37 milligrams of it, and it’s recommended that people get between 265 and 350 milligrams daily), you can feel more clear-headed, relaxed, and focused.
Bananas are also full of both tyrosine and tryptophan. Both are amino acids that are used directly in the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin. Without these neurotransmitters, our mood can become very dysregulated and lead to feelings of overwhelm and general upset.
You can’t lose with this tasty, emotionally beneficial fruit.
We’re about to give you really exciting news… chocolate is officially a health food in our books (at least, in moderation).
However, it’s not all chocolate, just dark chocolate. But, it works to both improve and preserve brain function, using flavanols, a type of flavonoid, which is considered a phytonutrient with many benefits for the body.
It works both short-term and long-term, with the ability to support memory and reaction time just two hours after consumption.
Dark chocolate also improves nerve function, blood flow to the brain, and overall oxygen levels. It’s not only tasty, but it also helps calm the nervous system and supports optimal function.
Consider this a legitimate reason to carry a little dark chocolate in your purse or backpack to help ease a rough day.
What could be more calming than drinking a warm, relaxing cup of tea? Tea has been a way to naturally reduce anxiousness for millenia. Picture yourself sitting on the front porch with a warm cup of tea in your hand -- we feel at ease just thinking about it.
Teas, both green and black, are full of an essential amino acid called L-Theanine.
L-Theanine not only promotes relaxation on both a physical and mental level, it also helps on a chemical level.* This is mostly because it naturally boosts production of GABA in the brain, which helps to maintain a normal fight or flight response.*
It also can help put brain waves into an “alpha” pattern, which is the pattern seen in people who are either deeply relaxed or meditating, resulting in a lowered heart rate, an increased sense of calm and relaxation, and a state of mental alertness without the anxiety that normally comes along with caffeine.*
The recommended dosage of L-Theanine is between 100 and 200 milligrams a day. To get this naturally, you’d have to drink a few cups of tea per day, which is why many people choose to drink their tea alongside a natural mood supplement that contains L-Theanine.
Leafy Green Veggies
Leafy green vegetables, like spinach, kale, cabbage, and even microgreens, are nature’s miracle foods. They are rich in fiber, which can help lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), help people feel fuller for longer, and maintain blood sugar. But where they really shine is how they impact the nervous system.
Left green veggies are absolutely packed full of vitamins -- they have a ton of B-complex vitamins (specifically B-12, which is important for vegans and vegetarians), magnesium, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Every single one of these is essential for a healthy, naturally calm nervous system.
For instance, B vitamins help the nervous system to both synthesize and circulate all of the neurotransmitters (like GABA) that are essential to helping the mind feel calm and relaxed. Magnesium works in tandem with the B vitamins to help those neurotransmitters be able to travel efficiently between nerves.
You should be eating at least two cups of leafy, green vegetables a week as part of the recommended 18 to 21 cups you should be eating weekly. Make an easy spinach salad or try something new like bok choy or turnip greens as a side in your entree. Your nervous system will thank you.
Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety or depression, focusing on eating foods that can calm and support the immune system can help you just feel better.
If diet alone isn’t enough, choosing a mood-supporting supplement to make sure that you’re getting all of those essential mood-healthy components can really benefit you.* While it’s often easier to just grab fast food and go, taking that extra time to make sure you’re eating a well-balanced, healthy diet full of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and other products is well worth the effort. Your body will thank you, as will your mind.
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.