When you think about eating a well-balanced diet, you might consider the impact that can have on heart health. Certainly, a thoughtful approach to what you consume can support this muscular organ’s ability to pump life-giving blood throughout your body – and help with everything from regulating blood pressure to lowering risk of heart attack and stroke.
But the way you nourish your body and the impact that has on your function doesn’t stop there. In fact, what you drink and eat also affects all sorts of organs and systems that keep you alive and thriving. That includes the far-reaching nervous system, which contains your body’s control center – the brain – and spine and extends to all the other nerves in your body which branch out from the central nervous system to your skeletal muscles, arms, legs, fingers and toes.
There are quite a few foods and nutrients that support a healthy nervous system, saysJoan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University, and a U.S. News contributor.
Certainly, dietary changes may boost brain health. Look no further than the MIND diet, which combines two heart healthy diets – the DASH and traditional Mediterranean diets – which research suggests could also help protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The MIND diet emphasizes foods such as green leafy veggies – which are chock full of lutein that may help prevent cognitive decline – berries, nuts, beans and whole grains and fish – at least once weekly. Olive oil is held up as the oil and dressing of choice. The diet also calls for people to eat less than four servings of red meat and meat products, and go easy on heavier fare from pastries to fried food to butter.
Nor is the brain the only part of the nervous system that stands to benefit from dietary improvements. Essentially fatty acids, which you can find in things like walnuts, almonds and flaxseed, are very important for healthy skin, nerves and cell membranes, Salge Blake says. Thiamine, one of the B vitamins, is also important for nerve health, she says. In addition to being added to enriched products, from pasta and rice to ready-to-eat cereals, she notes, you can get thiamine from eating everything from pistachios to black beans. “Pork is a very, very good source, and so is oatmeal,” Salge Blake says.