Good nutrition to treat depression

Depression can affect anyone. 

Transcending gender, race and socioeconomic status, it’s estimated that in any one year, over one million Australian adults have depression.

When it comes to treatment options for depression, we often think of two things: therapy and medication.

Regular sessions with a qualified therapist can help us change unhelpful thought patterns and also learn coping techniques for managing stressors in our daily lives. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective methods for treating depression. You can also get help from other therapies, group sessions and eTherapies.

Medication is often administered in moderate to severe cases of depression or when psychological therapy hasn’t worked. Forming a close relationship with a trusted GP may be an important part of your journey to recovery.

But what if there was something missing from your treatment plan? What if there was something else you could do?

Well, I think there is, and it’s all about creating yourself a high-quality diet.

Recent research, published by Deakin University in Melbourne, suggests that adopting healthy dietary patterns, similar to that seen in the Mediterranean diet, can be an effective strategy for managing depression.

This is how the study worked

67 adults with moderate to severe depression were randomised to two different groups: a treatment group (seven individualised sessions with a dietitian) and a control group (seven social support sessions). Symptoms of depression were measured, using a standardised tool, at the beginning and end of the 12-week long study period.

The treatment group was specifically focused on helping the participants make dietary improvements to increase overall dietary quality. They participated in seven, one-on-one, hour-long sessions with a dietitian who coached them through adopting a Mediterranean-style diet.

The treatment diet involved eating more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, legumes, fish and chicken and eating less red meat, refined foods and processed foods containing sugar.  The dietitian used motivational interviewing techniques and encouraged each participant to set personal goals. They were also provided with resources, recipes and meal plans.

The results of the study found that the participants in the dietary treatment group had significantly lower symptoms of depression at the end of the 12 weeks compared to those in the control group.

In fact, the randomised, controlled characteristics of this study mean that its results offer high-quality evidence that dietary improvement is an effective treatment strategy for managing moderate to severe depression.

What should you do now?

Firstly, don’t stop taking your medication and/or stop seeing your therapist. Like most illnesses, you’re best to take a holistic approach and tackle it from all angles. Dietary intervention is not a replacement for these other treatments. However, this study makes it reasonably clear that if you haven’t taken steps to improve your dietary quality, then your treatment plan for depression is missing a vital link.

I’d argue that including a dietitian in your mental health care team is a vital piece of the puzzle for getting you on the road to recovery. The best thing to do would be to visit your GP and ask for a referral.

You can also self-refer to me and my team at The Healthy Eating Hub. We’re passionate about making healthy eating advice individualised, practical and balanced. We are trained in motivation interviewing techniques, will encourage you to set goals for establishing long-term healthy habits and can provide you with any or all of the following:

  • Individual advice
  • Resources
  • Recipes
  • Meal plans
  • Cooking lessons
  • Ongoing support

The main dietary improvements we can help you make

  • Decrease refined and processed foods high in sugar, saturated fat and salt.
  • Increase your intake of high fibre, good quality sources of carbohydrate.
  • Increase your intake of minimally processed lean protein sources.
  • Increase your intake of vegetables and fruit – plus help you learn how to make these foods taste amazing!
  • Increase your intake of healthy fats.
  • Create meals and snacks that suit your lifestyle and meet your daily energy needs.
  • Remove anxiety around food choices and help you feel confident in creating a diet that’s right for you!

Contact my team for an appointment or for more information on how we can help you. My recipe book has heaps of ideas for healthy food that’s simple, easy and delicious! Grab it here.


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
  • A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial), Jacka et al. BMC Medicine (2017) 15:23
Article by Kate Freeman

Registered Nutritionist. Writer. Presenter. Home cook. Mother. Wife. Runner. Hiker. Amateur photographer.