You may have heard of brain food and a heart-healthy diet, but certain foods also help boost your nerve health. A vast network of nerves connects your brain and spinal cord -- the central nervous system -- to every part of your body through the peripheral nervous system. Like the electrical grid of a house, your nerves transmit energy impulses that help regulate body temperature and heart rate, initiate thoughts in your brain and simply let you move. Like other cells, your nerves require balanced nutrition to develop, grow and repair themselves.
Deficiencies in vitamin B-12 can lead to nerve damage and deterioration of the spinal cord, which is integral to the nervous system, reports the Center for Peripheral Neuropathy at the University of Chicago. Beef, particularly liver, contains the the highest concentration of vitamin B-12 of all foods. Eating only 3 ounces of beef will give you 1,000 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B-12, according to the National Institutes of Health. You only need to eat a small amount of red meat every week to protect your nerve health.
Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the healthy function of the nerves in the brain. Healthy brain nerves are required to for cognitive functions such as memory and concentration, and even behavioral functions such as mood. To get the nerve-boosting results of omega-3 fatty acids, eat fish twice a week. Alternately, consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement that does not exceed 2 grams per day, as advised by the FDA.
Dark leafy greens should be a part of any healthy palate, and spinach is particularly great for nerve health. This leafy vegetable is high in folate, an essential vitamin. According to a review published in the "Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry," folate deficiencies have been linked to depression and epilepsy, conditions connected to the nervous system. Pregnant women also need enough folate to prevent neural tube or spinal cord defects in their developing babies. Your daily requirement of folate is about 400 micrograms. Half a cup of boiled spinach is equivalent to almost a third of this recommended amount, so think about making spinach a regular part of your meals.
Sunflower seeds are versatile as a low-fat snack or tossed into a salad or stew. They are a good source of vitamin B-6, an important nutrient for nerve health and energy production in your body. This essential vitamin is necessary in the production of chemicals that send messages between neurons in nerves. Low levels of vitamin B-6 can lead to muscle fatigue and other symptoms. Grab a cup of sunflower seeds and snack on them throughout the day in order to obtain 95 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B-6.
- Center for Peripheral Neuropathy, University of Chicago: Types of Peripheral Neuropathy - Systemic / Metabolic
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 fatty acids
- FDA: FDA Announces Qualified Health Claims for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Mayo Clinic: Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients
- BBC Health: Vitamin B6
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Seeds, Sunflower Seed Kernels, Dried
Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.