Our brain is always functioning. It works non-stop 24/7 which means it demands a constant supply of fuel that comes from what we ingest and the lifestyles we lead. Nutritional psychiatry is a burgeoning field that has discovered that there is a direct correlation between what we consume and our mental health, which ultimately determines our quality of life. Similar to a premium vehicle, your brain demands specific fuel for it to function at its optimum. High-quality foods rich in nutrients and anti-oxidants found in leafy greens, fruit, non-starchy vegetables and lean meat provide the aforesaid and nourish the brain while protecting its cells from oxidative stress that damages them.

Diets high in processed food, refined sugar and artificial food additives impair our bodies’ ability to regulate insulin and encourage inflammation and the production of free-radicals that speed up the ageing process while simultaneously impairing brain function. It stands to reason that consuming food devoid of nutrition contributes to brain tissue injury and can further exacerbate declining mental health. Given around 4.1% of the Sri Lankan population struggles with depression, understanding the correlation between mental health and the part nutrition has to play is pivotal at this juncture.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that aids the regulation of sleep and appetite, helps mediate mood and inhibits pain. Given around 95% of our serotonin is produced in your GI tract, it’s evident that intricacies of our digestive systems help guide our emotions. Studies comparing “traditional” diets such as the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet centred on refined grains, sugar and processed meat revealed that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% less in those consuming a traditional diet.

Nutritionists account for this difference because these traditional diets are high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and lean meat. We need to start paying attention to how the foods we consume affect our moods. Adopting a clean eating regime by abstaining from processed foods, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners is a good place to start. Observe how you feel both during and after consuming more nutritious meals for a period of two to three weeks and compare it with the consequences of your standard diet once you revert back. The apparent difference just might astound you!