Beating depression with the ModiMed Diet


  4 Minutes

The ModiMed Diet stands for Modified Mediterranean Diet. This eating plan is proven to help with depression. It is a slightly updated version of the Mediterranean Diet and was developed in association with dieticians in Australia as part of a clinical trial aptly called the SMILES trial. It is the first study of its kind involving nutritional psychiatry. Happiness might just be a mouthful away with the ModiMed Diet and the Living Naturally lifestyle.

This combination may just boost certain neurotransmitters that are responsible for sustainable happiness and serenity. This is chiefly thanks to serotonin. A lacklustre diet of calorie rich and nutrient poor food, robs the body of its natural compounds which interferes with the gut-brain axis. It also means that the body can’t physically make the neurotransmitters and hormones that science attributes to happiness.

95% of all serotonin is manufactured in the gut. When the connection between the brain and gut is disrupted or broken down through factors such as anxiety, stress and trauma or through too many toxins such as a poor diet, then the brain can’t tell the gut to make the mood-boosting happy-hormone called serotonin effectively. When it does manage to get it right and the signals finally reach the gut, it doesn’t have the right building blocks to make the best quality serotonin for sustained happiness.

Eventually this may cause a serotonin depletion which results in feelings of depression. And so it is that the slippery slope to sadness begins. This is why eating a balanced diet as outlined in the ModiMed Diet combined with a Living Naturally lifestyle may be a critical component of addressing depression holistically.

Top tips:

The recommended ModiMed Diet foods


ModiMed Diet Shopping List Items Living Naturally Recommends


Barley, brown rice, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa, rolled oats, popcorn, wholewheat flour, wholegrain breakfast cereals and wholewheat pasta.

Sourdough bread is encouraged and to be enjoyed with olive oil and not butter, butter spreads or margarine.

X8 servings per day maximum.


A selection of what is in season.

These are high in antioxidants.

Avoid canned fruit that is preserved in sugar.

X3 servings per day maximum.


A selection of what is in season for extra nutrients – careful to avoid starchy vegetables.

X6 servings per day.
Top tip: Learn more about leafy green vegetables called cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and spinach as well as a variety of salads in this article.


Black beans, broad beans, butterbeans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, red beans, and white beans.

Tinned beans are allowed and need to be low in brine, salt and sugar.

Chickpeas, green beans and lentils may be used instead.

Daily servings.

Raw and unsalted nuts:

A variety of nuts such as chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts.

Almonds and cashews are seeds while peanuts are legumes. Living Naturally recommends almonds.

X5 servings per week. (a handful).


Oily fish that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids including salmon and sardines.

X2 servings per week.


Chicken and turkey (not deep-fried).

X2 servings per week.
Moderate amounts of eggs, preferably organic and free range.
X6 servings per week.
Opt for red or white wine.
X2 serving per week or less.

Red meat:

For non-vegetarians opt for lean cuts of red meat including beef, pork, lamb, and low salt products made from these meats.

Not more than x4 servings per week.


Foods made with cow’s milk such as certain cheeses, cream and butter.

X3 small servings per day.

Crisps, candies, pastries, sweets:

All baked and deep-fried floury goods made with refined white flour, sugar, saturated fats and salt, including things like cookies, potato chips, sugary candies, dairy ice-cream, donuts, cakes, and roasted and salted nuts.

X2 servings per week or less.

Olive oil:

Avoid using other cooking oils and consider serving only olive oil with every meal.


According to Living Naturally, this is how food impacts mood. It includes eating a balanced diet of wholefoods such as fresh fruit and vegetables of what is in season, and lean protein, and combining it with 2 litres of good quality filtered water consistently throughout the day. Nutritious wholegrains make up the bulk of this eating plan which limits salt and refined carbohydrates. It advocates moderate daily exercise as well as six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

We have taken the guesswork out of sleep, stress and frazzled nerves for you with these selected products. Learn more.

Living Naturally has a dedicated helpline to see you through every season of your life. Feel free to get in touch on:
Tel: +27(0)31-783-8000
09:00 to 16:00 – Mondays to Fridays.

Yours in good health,
The Living Naturally Team


  1. (2023) Food and Mood: Beat Depression.
  2. Clinical trial finds Diet works for depression (2017) Psychology Today. Available at:
  3. Craig, A. et al. (2022) ‘The prevalence of probable depression and probable anxiety, and associations with adverse childhood experiences and socio-demographics: A national survey in South Africa,’ Frontiers in Public Health, 10.
  4. Jacka, F.N. et al. (2017) ‘A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial),’ BMC Medicine, 15(1).
  5. Opie, R. et al. (2017) ‘A modified Mediterranean dietary intervention for adults with major depression: Dietary protocol and feasibility data from the SMILES trial,’ Nutritional Neuroscience, 21(7), pp. 487–501:
  6. Radd‐Vagenas, S. et al. (2017) ‘Evolution of Mediterranean diets and cuisine: concepts and definitions.,’ PubMed, 26(5), pp. 749–763.
  7. Terry, N.A. and Margolis, K.G. (2016) ‘Serotonergic mechanisms regulating the GI tract: experimental evidence and therapeutic relevance,’ in Handbook of experimental pharmacology, pp. 319–342.
  8. The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (2022) 2022-11 – Mental health in SA is at shocking levels but people are not seeking help  – Wits University.