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Depression is an escalating issue in Australia with 16% of Australians developing depression at some stage in their life. Unfortunately psychotherapy is only effective in about 30% of cases. Health practitioners and researchers are now looking for alternative solutions, and evidence is growing that diet is an important one to consider. There have been a lot of studies looking at key nutrients such as vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and folate and their role in treating depression, but there hasn’t been a randomised study that actually focused on depressed people and the effect improving their diet would have on their symptoms, until now…

An Australian study, labelled SMILES, has been undertaken to test if dietary intervention can play a role in treatment of adults with major depression. And, spoiler alert – it does! The dietary intervention was a modified Mediterranean diet (‘ModiMedDiet’), modified because the traditional Mediterranean Diet is low in red meat, whereas this diet encouraged red meat 3-4 times per week to increase the provision of omega 3 fatty acids, iron and zinc, all of which are known to be important nutrients for treating depression.

Participants had their diet and mental health statuses assessed at the beginning and end of the trial and received either regular dietetic counselling or social support.Therefore, participants were encouraged to eat a diet that contained:

– 5-8 serves of wholegrains per day,
– 3 serves of fruit per day,
– 6 serves of vegetables per day,
– 2-3 serves of dairy per day,
– Approximately 60ml olive oil per day,
– 1 serve of nuts per day,
– legumes 3-4 per week,
– 3-4 serves of lean red meat
– fish at least twice per week,
– 2-3 serves of poultry per week,
– up to 6 eggs per week, and
– no more than 3 extra/treat foods per week
So, what happened after 12 weeks?…

The final dietary assessment showed that participants seeing a dietitian increased their intake of wholegrains, fish, fruit, dairy and vegetables, even though it was not always to the recommended amounts. For example all participants started the study not eating any legumes at all, however on average the intervention participants on the ModiMedDiet increased their intake to 1.5 serves a week, while the control group remained without any serves.

Even though there wasn’t 100% compliance to the ModiMedDiet, the improvements to diet quality were great enough to significantly improve symptoms of depression. In fact, one in three people in the dietary intervention group achieved complete remission of their symptoms.

So, if you have a client with depression who is not seeing improvements, it may be worth making a referral to speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian about commencing the ModiMedDiet.

Author: Melanie McGrice is one of Australia’s best known dietitians. She is a highly respected author and health presenter on nutrition and dietary issues – and a lover of great food! Join her free nutrition and wellbeing network at  or like her on Facebook