• Lucy Francis

Mood Food

Can nutrition improve mental health?


Whilst nutrition and diet isn't considered a 'treatment' for mental health disorders clinically, recent research has established that diet quality and nutritional status are evidently important factors in mental health and can bring significant positive effects on depression, WITHOUT side effects, large financial contributions or long waiting lists for the Dr's office.


The Smiles Trial in 2017 was the first randomised control trial of it's kind (large study) which monitored 67 participants over 12-weeks.


The participants for the study were adults who were depressed and had a 'clinically defined' poor diet (a diet low in fibre, fruit, vegetables and lean protein, and high in sweets, salty snacks and processed meats).


What participants were encouraged to eat for12 weeks:

  • Whole grains (5–8 portions per day)

  • Vegetables (6 per day)

  • Fruit (3 per day)

  • Legumes/beans (3–4 per week)

  • Low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods (2–3 per day)

  • Raw and unsalted nuts (1 per day)

  • Fish (at least 2 per week)

  • Lean red meats (3–4 per week)

  • Chicken (2–3 per week)

  • Eggs (up to 6 per week)

  • Olive oil (3 tablespoons per day)

This is a similar representation of a Mediterranean diet pattern.


Participants also received seven one hour sessions with a registered nutritionist where they were provided personalised nutritional advice, meal example plans and motivational coaching.


What participants were advised to reduce in the diet:


  • Sweets/candy

  • Refined cereals (i.e. coco pops, sugary cornflakes etc)

  • Fried food and fast-food

  • Processed meats

  • Sugary drinks

No more than x3 of these above food/beverages per week. Plus, no more than x2 glasses of wine daily - and if they did, to choose red wine and consume only with a meal.


So what happened?


  • After the 12 week intervention, the dietary intervention group were four times more likely to be in remission than the control group (who were receiving social support only).

  • Their anxiety severity had reduced

  • Researchers pointed towards other potential positive outcomes with this intervention for other problems that are typically associated with depression, i.e. cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.


Also, another analysis, the NNT, was recorded (side note: If a drug/method worked for everyone then the NNT would be 1) - The Smiles intervention had a score of 4! Antidepressant drugs typically score between ranges of 5-16.


This is really encouraging and shows there are changes we can make to our nutrition, adjunct to treatment, if needed to potentially improve our mental wellbeing. Please always discuss your treatment options and/or alternative lifestyle/nutrition strategies with your Dr so they can provide an optimally safe care-plan for you.


Stay tuned for an upcoming article where I explore specific nutrients for mood and mental health.


L x


Study in discussion: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y#change-history

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