In 2017 the first RCT (randomized controlled trial) was conducted on the effects of a healthy diet on people diagnosed with depression. This study is a first of its kind and shows that food can act as a powerful antidepressant (R). Personally, changing my diet has dramatically improved my mood. As someone who has struggled with depression throughout my life, I welcomed increased energy and a more positive outlook on life.

Psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are currently the primary methods of treatment for depression. The SMILES (Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States) trial is the first of its kind to consider if diet can be part of treatment for moderate to severe depression.

Who Participated?

In the trial, 67 men and women, diagnosed with depression, were screened extensively. Researchers picked people who had relatively unhealthy but standard diets. They also tested for co-occurring mental/physical disorders. This ensured that the participants weren’t already eating healthy food and wouldn’t have any diseases interfering with results.

How did the study work?

Each person was randomly sorted into two groups: the diet group (DS) and social support (control) group (SS). Before the trial, every participant was scored using the MADRS scale (Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale). Researchers put the diet group on a modified Mediterranean diet (ModiMed). They were encouraged to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and fish. They also had to limit their alcohol consumption along with processed foods. After three months, the participants had their MADRS scores re-tested.

What were the outcomes?

The scores of the diet group vastly improved. About 1/3 of the participants in this group ended up meeting criteria for significant depressive remission. Only 4% of the social group met the same criteria. These results mean that those who changed their diet were more likely to see benefits than that of the control group.

What does this all mean?

The correlation between mood and food has been anecdotal and speculative up until now. Quality scientific evidence, such as this randomized control trial, is vital for change. This study will help lead future research, along with help change thoughts on how we treat depression. Nutrition psychiatry is an emerging field that is gaining more traction. Studies like these could potentially help those who could greatly benefit from dietary changes over other methods.