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The SMILES Trial – Can diet improve depression?

Depression affects millions worldwide, with many seeking solutions beyond medication. At Chuckling Goat, our passion lies in finding the natural, long-term solutions to health challenges.

Let me introduce you to The SMILES Trial, a ground-breaking study that explored whether dietary changes could alleviate symptoms of major depressive disorder. The findings were striking and serve as a beacon of hope for holistic health approaches.

What was The SMILES Trial?

The SMILES Trial, short for Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States, set out to answer a compelling question: Can improving diet reduce depression symptoms? This trial was one of the first to directly examine the impact of diet on mental health. The study involved 67 adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder. These individuals were divided into two groups:

  • Diet intervention group, who received dietary support to follow a modified Mediterranean diet.
  • Control group, who received social support but no specific dietary guidance.

The dietary intervention focused on a modified Mediterranean diet, well-known for its health benefits. Participants were encouraged to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, fish, chicken and lean red meats, eggs, and low-fat unsweetened dairy foods. They were also advised to reduce their intake of processed foods including sweets, refined cereals, sugary drinks, processed meats, fried and fasted foods. Over the 12-week study period the participants also received regular dietary advice from a clinical dietitian.

Results of The SMILES Trial

The results of this trial were significant! People in the diet intervention group showed significant improvement in their depression symptoms compared to the control group. The main finding of the SMILES Trial was that 32% of participants in the dietary intervention group achieved remission of depression symptoms compared to just 8% in the control group. These findings highlight the powerful connection between diet and mental health. Improved diet quality was strongly linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms, suggesting that what you eat can significantly impact your emotional well-being.1

How does diet affect depression?

The modified Mediterranean diet emphasises nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and prebiotics. These nutrients play crucial roles in brain function and overall health:

  • Fruit and vegetables: Rich in antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and inflammation, both linked to depression.
  • Whole grains: Provide steady energy and maintain stable blood sugar levels, crucial for mood stability.
  • Legumes and nuts: Offer healthy fats and proteins that support brain health.
  • Fish and lean meats: Sources of omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Olive oil: A primary fat source with anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Eggs: Provide essential nutrients such as choline, which is important for brain health.

Reducing processed foods and sugars also helps to lower inflammation and stabilise blood sugar levels, both important for mental health. Check out Saskia’s post – What’s so great about the Mediterranean diet – and how can you get started?.

At Chuckling Goat, we have been involved in our own exciting trials investigating the benefits of our kefir and Complete Prebiotic on health outcomes. Most excitingly, a recent 2023 study showed that Chuckling Goat Synbiotic has “profound effects” on emotional health within 6 weeks of intervention. Read the study review by NutraIngredients Europe here. Read the full research article in the World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research here.

A brighter diet for a brighter future…

The SMILES Trial highlights the potential of dietary improvement as a powerful tool in managing depression. While medication and therapy remain crucial for some, incorporating dietary changes offers a holistic approach that addresses both physical and mental health. The foods included in this intervention – rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil – are also excellent for gut health. These nutrient-dense foods are high in fibre and prebiotics, which feed and support the growth of beneficial probiotics in the gut. Check out Shopping for plant diversity – 4 easy tips to get started! By adopting a healthier diet, you can take a significant step towards improved mental health and overall well-being ♡

To learn more about this and discover why experts call your gut “the second brain”, check out How is your mental wellness connected to your gut?. You may also find What’s a safe, natural remedy for your anxiety? helpful.

Any questions? Contact one of our Nutritional Therapists via live chat, weekdays from 8 am to 8 pm.


Questions? Talk to a Nutritional Therapist on live chat!

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