Food for Life Collaborative Research Program

Food is necessary for life, but without the right amount and type of food, we are unlikely to achieve optimal health or performance. The Food for Life Collaborative Research Program encompasses the application of food and nutrition and other related lifestyle modifications across the whole spectrum with a primary focus on prevention of obesity and chronic disease.

The prevalence of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases continues to rise in Australia despite current therapeutic efforts. Around 1 in 4 Australian adults and children (aged 5-17 years) are overweight or obese, and the increase in rates is the fastest in the world. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes and continues to be the primary cause of death in Australia and the major contributor to Australia's health and economic burden. Studies consistently show that diet and lifestyle modification can prevent almost half of premature CVD deaths.

Poor nutrition is a major preventable risk factor in the aetiology of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many nutrition intervention programs can be effective in weight loss and CVD risk reduction in the short-term but tend to fail in the long term due to individual and societal factors. Therefore, our key purpose is to build palatable, food-based diet and lifestyle intervention strategies, which are sustainable and focused on retention of culture and cuisine for the maintenance of health and prevention and management of obesity and chronic disease.

Our strength is our breadth of methodological research skills and cross-disciplinary collaborations. Our collaborations with agricultural and veterinary science, cardiovascular physiology, biochemistry, and public health at La Trobe informs our food-based intervention models, our animal to human clinical trial models, and measurement of dietary biomarkers to translate our findings to policy and practice. We have established long-standing inter-institutional and international research links with health services and medical schools for our clinical intervention trials (in cardiology, endocrinology, gastrointestinal health, depression, malnutrition). We have established leadership in the areas of Mediterranean diet interventions, encompassing the Mediterranean Diet Research Group. We have established strong links with the elite sports industry (AFL, A-League Soccer) to investigate the impact of improved nutrition on sport performance. We will continue to build links with other disciplines in public health, exercise science, psychology, health economics, and others to develop cost-effective multi-disciplinary interventions targeting the obesity-diabetes epidemic.

We are currently conducting several multicentre trials including the investigation of the  Mediterranean diet in Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (MEDINA) and in secondary prevention of Myocardial Infarct (AUSMED Heart Trial). We are also investigating traditional food cultures, the prevalence of intestinal permeability in ICU patients, and the effect of novel dietary interventions (e.g. herbs and spices or quinoa) on chronic disease outcomes.

2017 Dietitians Association of Australia 34th National Conference

We recently presented our workshop “How to better your mood with health food!” at the 2017 Dietitians Association of Australia 34th National Conference in Hobart, Tasmania. The workshop included presentations from members of the Food for Life Research Collaboration, Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos APD, Hannah Mayr APD and Elena George APD, as well as Josephine Pizzinga APD (IPC Health) and Scott Teasdale APD (Keeping the Body in Mind Program, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District). Our workshop provided an overview of the recent scientific literature regarding the role of diet on improving mental health including several research studies conducted by members of the Food for Life Research Collaboration and our partners. In particular, we presented the results of two major dietary interventions that were recently conducted in conjunction with our collaborators: The SMILES trial, a collaborative trial in patients with depression and anxiety using a modified Mediterranean diet intervention , designed by Dr Rachelle Opie (La Trobe University), and led by Chief Investigators Felice Jacka (Deakin University) and Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos (La Trobe University) and colleagues from the University of Melbourne, and the HELFIMED trial, a trial in patients with serious mental illness using a Mediterranean diet intervention, led by Dr Natalie Parletta (University of South Australia). The workshop also provided practical recommendations and advice on how to deliver optimal dietetic care to populations with mental illness.

Please see below for additional resources related to our workshop

Executive Team

Research Members

Current Food for Life Collaborative Research HDR students projects

Project TitlePHD CandidatePrincipal Supervisor
Intestinal permeability in the critically ill: a tool to monitor clinical progress.Oana TatucuDr Audrey Tierney (Co-supervisor Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos)

Mediterranean Dietary Intervention in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Patients (MEDINA)

Elena George

Dr Audrey Tierney (Co-supervisor Catherine Itsiopoulos)
Investigating the role of inflammatory markers in the Mediterranean Dietary Intervention in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Patients (MEDINA)Anjana (Anj) ReddyDr Audrey Tierney (Co-supervisor Jessica Radcliffe)

Culture of water consumption in an immigrant Greek-Cypriot community in Australia

Spero Tsindos

Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos (Co-supervisor Antigone Kouris)

A study of the Mediterranean dietary pattern, psycho-social factors, cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome risk; comparing older Greek Australians with older Greeks living in Greece and other ethnic groups in Australia.

Tania ThodisProfessor Catherine Itsiopoulos (Co-supervisors Antigone Kouris, Laima Brazionis)
Optimal training and recovery: enabling the elite male athlete to optimise nutrition and hydration for training & game day performance and recoveryMichael AndrewsProfessor Catherine Itsiopoulos (Co-supervisor John Hannon)
The impact of the Mediterranean diet in heart disease and interactions with pharmacotherapyTeagan FrangosProfessor Catherine Itsiopoulos (Co-supervisors Audrey Tierney, Hassan Vally)
Psychosocial Impact of Repeated Intravitreal Injections on Patients with Diabetic Macular OedemaMonique RoseProfessor Catherine Itsiopoulos (Co-supervisors Connie Koklanis, Meri Vukicevic)
The impact of the Mediterranean diet in heart diseaseHannah MayrProfessor Catherine Itsiopoulos (Co-supervisors Audrey Tierney, Colleen Thomas, Jessica Radcliffe)
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors in the Treatment and Prevention of Obesity and Associated DiseasesSerpil KucuktepeMark Jois (Co-supervisor Catherine Itsiopoulos)
Effects of Quinoa Seeds (Chenopodium quinoa) on the body composition, plasma profile and adipose tissue gene expressionDiana NavaroperezMark Jois (Co-supervisor Jessica Radcliffe)
The psychosocial impact of repeated intravitreal injections on patients with neovascular ageā€related macular degeneration

Jess Boyle

Meri Vukicevic (Co-supervisors Connie Koklanis, Catherine Itsiopoulos)
Pregnancy Nutrition KnowledgeAmelia LeeRegina Belski (Co-supervisors Jessica Radcliffe, Michelle Newton)
Assessing and improving general and sports nutrition and food knowledge, and exploring views about the role of sports clubs in nutrition education of elite and recreational Australian athletesGina TrackmanRegina Belski (Co-supervisors Adrienne Forsyth, Russel Hoye)

Program Research Questions:

Our key research questions fall under 4 themes:

Obesity and Metabolic Health

Novel ways of approaching obesity and metabolic disease prevention and management for long-term success, encompassing:

  • Intervention models based on traditional cuisines, e.g.  Mediterranean diet
  • Bioactive components of diet (herbs and spices, n-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, carotenoids)
  • Nutrigenomics

Research Theme Members

Food and Culture

The study of retention of traditional dietary practices in the maintenance of health and the impact of migration on food, culture and health.

Research Theme Members

Malnutrition and Specific Clinical Disorders

Managing malnutrition (over and under nutrition) in high risk groups.

The role of diet in the pathophysiology and short and long term management of functional gastrointestinal disorders and associated co-morbidities.

Research Theme Members

Food and Performance

Nutrition interventions for optimal body composition, sport performance and cognition.

Research Team Members

Clinical Trials

Food for Life, Health and Performance Program Clinical Trials

We are currently recruiting participants for the following studies:

The AUSMED (AUStralian MEDiterranean diet) Heart Study (HEC13-159)

Background:Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a major cause of disease burden and death in Australians, resulting in significant healthcare costs. Improving outcomes in high-CVD risk Australians via a Mediterranean diet intervention could be a practical, achievable and cost-effective measure for secondary prevention. A reduction in the re-event rate, exceeding that achieved with standard care, will not only reduce long-term costs involved with treatment and care of high-risk patients but will also improve their quality of life. Although the European evidence for the cost-effectiveness and cardioprotective effects of the Mediterranean diets has been established, there are knowledge gaps that prevent the clear translation of those recommendations into the Australian healthcare setting. This study will address those gaps.
Study design and Aims:

Using a randomized controlled trial study design, high-risk individuals who have experienced a cardiac event will be randomized to receive either a Mediterranean dietary intervention or standard care for 6 months.

The primary aim of the proposed trial is to evaluate the efficacy, feasibility, and cost-effectiveness of an evidence-based Mediterranean diet for secondary prevention of CVD in the multicultural Australian setting. Intervention: Participants will undergo a series of education sessions with a dietitian aimed at modifying their diet to either the Mediterranean or to the usual diet recommended to cardiac patients.

Primary outcome:Composite clinical cardiovascular endpoints will be determined via a comprehensive review at 12 months.
Secondary outcomes:Lifestyle factors, physical activity, body composition, and novel urinary and blood biomarkers will be measured to investigate mechanisms of effect. Health economic outcomes will also be analysed.

Mediterranean Dietary Intervention in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Patients (MEDINA)


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the most prevalent liver disease in developed countries, remains difficult to manage with no proven safe and effective pharmacotherapy available. While weight reduction is the most commonly practiced treatment strategy, this is difficult to both achieve and/or maintain in the majority. Furthermore evidence-based dietary recommendations to guide the nutritional management of these patients are lacking. Using a randomised controlled trial design, this study compares the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet to a standard low fat diet in terms of differences in insulin sensitivity, hepatic steatosis and metabolic outcomes in participants with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.


Ninety-four eligible patients who have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and who are insulin resistant, will be randomised into either a Mediterranean or low fat diet group for a 3 month intervention period. Insulin sensitivity will be measured on peripheral blood using Homeostatic Model Assessment and liver fat content quantified using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. Both arms will consist of three face to face and three telephone call follow up consultations delivered by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. The intervention arm focuses on recommendations from the traditional Mediterranean diet which have been tailored for use in the Australian population The standard arm uses the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the Australian National Heart Foundation dietary guidelines. Study recruitment will take place at four major metropolitan hospitals in Melbourne, Australia. Data collection will occur at all face to face reviews including baseline, 6, and 12 weeks. A follow up assessment to measure sustainability will take place at 6 and 12 months. The primary end point is improved insulin sensitivity scores at the 12-week time point.


This trial aims to demonstrate in a large cohort of participants with NALFD that a Mediterranean diet independent of weight loss can result in significant benefits in liver fat and insulin sensitivity and that these changes are sustained at 12 months. These metabolic changes would potentially lead to reductions in the risk of chronic liver disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.

The protocol paper for the MEDINA trial can be found here

Intestinal permeability 'leaky gut' study in healthy adults (HEC13-063)

We are looking for volunteers to take part in a 'leaky gut' study to help fill a knowledge gap on the link between leaky gut, body weight and inflammation.


Adults who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) > 25kg/m2 but do not have diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, are not pregnant and are not taking regular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as aspirin or ibuprofen.


Bundoora Campus, La Trobe University.


DEXA body composition scan, 2 x 24 hour urine self-collections, 1 x blood collection.

Participants will receive a FREE body composition report (valued at ~$120 AUD) and FREE analysis of a 3-day food diary by a registered Dietitian.

Please email Oana or call (03) 9479 5391 for more information.

Effect Of Quinoa (Chenopodium Quinoa) On Blood Lipids And Circulating Adiponectin In Humans (HEC14-065)

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a crop originating from South America. Quinoa seeds are highly nutritious; they contain more protein and other beneficial compounds such as antioxidants than most cereals which make them attractive for vegan or vegetarian populations as well as gluten free diets.

You are eligible to participate if you:

  • are aged between 18-65 years
  • are able to communicate in English
  • have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25
  • are not taking blood lipid lowering medications
  • have not been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease
  • are not be pregnant.

Participants will receive:

  • Three free body composition assessments (valued at approximately $AUD120 each)
  • Free dietary assessment report
  • Free physical activity report
  • Free organic white quinoa  (valued at approximately AUD$50 -160).

Please email Diana or call (03) 9479 6039 for more details.

Effect of Herbs and Spices on Body Weight and Blood Pressure (HEC12-061/13-058)

You are invited to participate in a study that will investigate the effect of select herb and spice capsules on body weight and blood pressure. These herbs and spices are culinary herbs and spices commonly used in cooking.

In order to participate you must:

  • Be aged 18 - 65 years;
  • Have a **BMI greater than 25;
    • Not be taking any medications (exceptions allowed: anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, blood cholesterol lowering, and contraceptive pill medications);
    • Not be taking any anti-coagulant medications/thinning agents, e.g. Warfarin and Heparins;
  • Understand and be able to communicate well in English;
  • Not be pregnant nor planning to become pregnant.

** To calculate your BMI divide your weight by your height in metres2

E.g. weight: 80 kg, height: 1.72 m BMI = 80 / (1.72 x 1.72) = 27 (overweight)

Participants will receive:

  • Three free body composition assessments (valued at ~$120 each)
  • Free lipid profile report
  • Free herb and spice capsules for 6 months

Please email Jessica or call (03) 9479 1504 for more details.