The Nervous System Did you know that humans have between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts each day? Our brain is a network of over 85 billion neurons sending signals through substances called neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers are made from amino acids, which come from the proteins in our diet. The brain is fuelled by glucose from the carbohydrates we eat and dietary fats are replenishing our brain, which is made up of 60% fat. So, in a very literal way, we are what we eat! Certain foods help to sharpen our mind, balance our mood, and boost our memory, while other foods negatively impact our nervous system.
Foods that Drain the Brain
Trans fats- Your brain is 60% fat and these need to be replenished through diet, but when we eat trans fats they replace the healthy fats in our brain and negatively alter our thinking. Alcohol- Your liver is responsible for detoxifying alcohol, but once you consume more than the liver can keep up with, alcohol begins damaging your brain by disrupting communication and dissolving healthy fatty acids, like DHA. Sugar- Diets high in refined sugars and starches have been linked to depression, anxiety, aggression, learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder and antisocial behaviour. Too much sugar is toxic to the brain, damaging nerve cells and causing inflammation. Caffeine- Caffeine is highly addictive and withdrawal effects are felt hours after ingestion, including headache, irritability, poor mood and fatigue. Caffeine blocks your brains natural stimulants, adrenalin and dopamine, and pushes the body toward adrenal fatigue.
Foods to nourish the nervous system
Glucose- Complex carbohydrates provide fuel for the brain. Choose slow-releasing carbs that won't throw off your blood sugar levels, like whole grains, lentils, beans, fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy fats- Brain building fats replenish the brain. Roughly 20% of calories consumed should be fat with a breakdown of 7% polyunsaturated fats, like those found in fish, nuts, seeds and their oils, 7% monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and 6% saturated fats found in avocado and coconut. Phospholipids- These fats help to build the myelin sheath around our neurons making our brain run faster and they make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter crucial for memory. Sources include eggs and lecithin granules. Protein- Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, so the better the quality and digestibility of your protein, the better for your brain. We also need a balance of the amino acids and plant-based eaters need to ensure they are getting the essential amino acids that the body can't manufacture. Try quinoa, eggs, cold water fish, brown rice and beans.
Recipe for Meditation
I have often found that what has challenged me in my meditation practice is not my physical body, it's my mind. Racing thoughts, excuses, fatigue, the list goes on. So, for this week's detox I have put together a blend of calming herbs to help the mind settle and prepare for meditation.
For racing thoughts there is no better herb than passionflower. This stunning bloom is well-known for its ability to stop the mind from behaving like a broken record player. Often prescribed for insomnia, it helps to cease the thoughts that prevent sleep without causing drowsiness the following morning.
Linden flowers (also called lime blossom) are a favourite of mine. Linden blossoms are commonly used to induce a relaxed state, prevent migraines and to lower blood pressure due to arteriosclerosis by gently removing arterial plaque.
Lemonbalm is a member of the mint family and adds a delicious flavour to any blend. This healing plant is commonly used to reduce anxiety, promote sleep, and ease nervous tension.
Recipe -makes 1 cup
1/4 tsp dried passionflower
1/4 tsp dried linden blossoms
1/4 tsp dried lemonbalm
-Allow to steep for 10 minutes and enjoy.
Great sources for herbs in downtown Toronto are Herbie's Herbs at 556 Queen Street West and Qi Natural Food at various locations.
Sources for the information in this post are: David Hoffmann, 'Holistic Herbal: A safe and practical guide to making and using herbal remedies', HarperCollins: 1990. Patrick Holford, 'New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind', Basic Health Publications: 2009.