• Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre will soon run the world’s first free online course to teach people how to eat to improve their mental health. (E+/Getty Images)
If you love reading about what to eat to improve your mental health, balance your gut microbiome or prevent cognitive decline, then this new online course featuring the latest facts on food and mood may be for you.
By
Yasmin Noone

20 Nov 2019 - 3:19 PM  UPDATED 21 Nov 2019 - 11:27 AM

You can forget about constantly needing to sift through streams of uninformed food blogs or seeking advice from Dr Google to access credible information on how to eat a healthy diet to ward off dementia or manage your mental health.

Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre will soon run the world’s first free online course to teach people the research-based truths on reducing the symptoms of depression and preventing cognitive decline through dietary improvements.

The three-week course, available through the online platform FutureLearn, will be available to anyone around the world with an Internet connection, who wants to improve their nutritional and mental health from November 25.

“If you’re someone who struggles with depression, wants to improve your diet to protect your mental health and prevent cognitive decline... then this course is applicable to you.”

‘Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition’ features nine hours of content designed to empower individuals to access the most up-to-date evidence on food and mood strategies, and how to eat to better their mental health.

“If you’re someone who struggles with depression, wants to improve your diet to protect your mental health and prevent cognitive decline, or wants to learn how to improve the diet of your family to benefit their mental health, then this course is applicable to you,” Dr Tetyana Rocks, head of the Translational and Educational stream at the Food & Mood Centre, tells SBS.

The beauty of the course is that if you don’t understand the reasoning behind a fact that’s presented in the teachings or are unsure about the authenticity of the dietary claims made, users can fact-check the evidence presented for themselves. The course designers tell SBS that all participants will have free access to the research substantiating the advice, as all related academic study paywalls will be dropped.

“The dietary changes [discussed in the course] will not be anything new or crazy. It will just be about learning how to enjoy food to better your body and brain.”

If you're a young adult battling depression symptoms, this may be the diet for you
An Australian-led study has shown that young adults with elevated symptoms of depression can improve their mental health by adopting a healthy diet with a Mediterranean twist.

Learnings that may help your brain and body

Online participants will learn about the immune system, inflammation and the gut microbiome; smash dietary misconceptions and myths, and understand how to make changes to their eating patterns.

“We’ll also unpack the modern Mediterranean diet – the diet used in the SMILES trial we ran which was the first randomised control trial in the world that used dietary changes to improve depressive outcomes in people with clinical depression.”

Deakin University’s 2017 SMILES trial was also furthered by other research in 2018, showing that switching to a Mediterranean diet can be a cost-effective way to treat depression symptoms in adults. The Deakin study found that participants receiving dietary support for their depression who switched to a Mediterranean diet spent $71 less a week on health care sector costs and $26 less a week on food expenses than people in the social support group.

Mediterranean diet may be able to treat depression and save you $26 a week in food costs
Treat depression symptoms and save money by switching to a Med diet, according to a world-first study.

Dr Rocks says the course will also enable people to set realistic goals and be positive while improving their mental health and dietary wellbeing. She explains this is the key to long-term change.

“That’s very important for us as the last thing we want is for people to do the course and beat themselves up because they don’t do something right. It’s all about understanding dietary principles that will improve your mental health and how to overcome [common] mistakes [you may make along the way]. We want to help people make sustainable, long-term life changes.”

“That’s very important for us as the last thing we want is for people to do the course and beat themselves up because they don’t do something right." 

An alternative solution for a common issue

The idea for the course comes from Food & Mood Centre Director Professor Felice Jacka – who led the SMILES trial – alongside research fellow Dr Rocks. 

Professor Jacka explains new ways to combat the global mental health crisis are urgently needed because “whatever we’re doing it’s not working: we need new ways of both preventing and treating mental health problems”.

She says this course is a way of giving laypeople, as well as interested health professionals, access to research-based strategies that could change lives.

“Research recognises that diet quality has a direct association with mental disorders," says Prof Jacka. "So we want to use this evidence to help people optimise their mental health and wellbeing through diet and nutrition.”

“We aren’t saying that changing your diet will fix everything but we do go by the latest evidence saying that diet is protective and can be used in the treatment of many mental health issues, particularly depression.”

Although the course will cover a lot of information, Dr Rocks does stress that there’s no easy, quick-fix solution to complicated mental health concerns.

“I don’t want to oversimplify the issue of mental and cognitive health,” says Dr Rocks. “They have very complex determinants. We know that a lot of factors impact how you feel, and your cognitive abilities and neurodegenerative decline. It’s a bit of genetics, physical health and social health together.

“But your genetics are fixed and it’s impossible to change at this stage in science. However, diet is a modifiable factor.

“We aren’t saying that changing your diet will fix everything but we do go by the latest evidence saying that diet is protective and can be used in the treatment of many mental health issues, particularly depression.”

The free online course will be available until 26 January 2020. For more information on Deakin’s free Food and Mood course, visit www.futurelearn.com/courses/food-and-mood.

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