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Salisbury University Dietitian Newsletter  |  March 2020 

the nutritious nibble

March is National Nutrition Month!

In This Issue:

Can What We Eat Effect Our Mood? | Mood-Pleasing Recipes

Can What We Eat Effect Our Mood?

A recent study concludes that changing your diet can relieve depression/anxiety and reduce stress. This Australian randomized and controlled study was done with undergraduate college students who tested moderate or high for symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress and found to have a high intake of fat and sugar. Students were separated into two groups: a treatment group – we’ll call the “Diet Change” group – and the “Control” group. Students continued with any medication or treatment they were receiving prior to the study.

The Diet Change group watched a 13-minute video from the registered dietitian, were provided with handouts and given a small hamper of food items. Follow up consisted of two, five-minute phone calls.

Students in the control group were given no instructions regarding diet and were asked to return in three weeks.


At the end of the three-week intervention, results showed depression symptom scores improved from the moderately elevated range to the normal range in the Diet Change group.


The Diet Change group also had significantly lower anxiety and stress scores at the end of the study. No change was seen in the Control group.

This study showed that college students can make changes to their diet for just three weeks and see positive changes in mood, including reduced depression, stress and anxiety. It also revealed another interesting result: The study participants in the diet change group had lower food cost!

This study showed that college students can make changes to their diet for just three weeks and see positive changes in mood, including reduced depression, stress and anxiety.

So what were the diet changes made by the students? This study instructed the students to decrease refined carbohydrates, sugar, fatty or processed meats, and soft drinks. Instead, they were to follow a Mediterranean-style diet with plentiful servings of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and an abundance of olive oil. Data analysis showed that the reduction in processed foods contributed significantly to the improvement in depression symptoms. Eating healthy foods and avoiding processed foods were both important to reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. The study recommended avoiding foods that come in a package with multiple ingredients and foods with more than 10 g. of sugar per 100 g. These included soft drinks, chocolates, sweets and fried foods.


The Diet Change group ate about six more servings weekly of fruits and vegetables compared to the Control group. Those who had a greater increase in fruit and vegetable intake had the greatest improvement in depression symptoms.


The study’s author suggests that diet improvement be a part of treatment for depression alongside psychological therapy and/or medications.


This study supports the findings of the SMILES trial, which was also a randomized trial of dietary improvement for adults with depression. The study also used a modified Mediterranean diet in the treatment group. The treatment group also showed a significant reduction in depression symptoms, which appeared to be independent of other changes, including BMI and physical activity. To hear from one of the SMILES trial researchers click here.


Both studies emulated the Mediterranean diet. While these studies showed that eating a Mediterranean-style diet while avoiding processed foods supports mental health, they did not tell us why. We still don’t know what aspect of the foods we eat bring about the desired effect. Inflammation and oxidative stress have been linked to depression. Foods such as fruits and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and kale, battle inflammation and oxidative stress


The Australian study included turmeric and cinnamon in their diet protocol. Turmeric has had many studies supporting its anti-inflammatory properties; cinnamon also has been linked to positive health effects. A diet high in plant foods and low in processed foods supports a healthy microbiome, which may affect mental health. Both studies emphasized olive oil, which is phytonutrient rich, high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and provides healthy fats.


Perhaps the most significant outcome from this study is that it was only three weeks long and successfully followed by the students. In just three weeks, students with depression symptoms saw significant improvement in mood simply by improving their diet and they saved money by spending less on food.

Mood-Pleasing Recipes

Tuna Zoodles

Tuna Zoodles

 For a twist on tuna “pasta,” this recipe substitutes spiralized zucchini for traditional noodles and adds some heat and power-packed ingredients like olives, capers, garlic and onion.

Sautéed Chickpea Salad

Sautéed Chickpea Salad

An interesting chick pea salad that can stand on its own or be meal prepped to add to bowls or serve as a side

Lentil and Greens Curry

Lentil and Greens Curry

Lentils are easy to prepare and cook. This recipe shows how flexible meal prep can be.

Best Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Best Roasted Brussel Sprouts

These are delish and provide powerful antioxidants!

Terry Passano

University Dietitian

CB 151


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