Food for Life Collaborative Research Program

Dr Colleen ThomasFood is necessary for life, but without the right amount and type of food we are unlikely to achieve optimal health or performance. This La Trobe 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 trials models, and measurement of dietary biomarkers to translate our findings to policy and practice. We have established long-standing 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, and we have expertise in Gut Health and undertake dietary interventions in Coeliac Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We are establishing the Australian Nutraceuticals Science and Education Centre to undertake fundamental and applied research across the nutraceutical and functional food sectors with the aim of improving health outcomes and informing consumers. With support from industry and other research organisations, the Centre is comprised of research scientists working across the nutrition and food sciences using a range of cross-disciplinary approaches and analytic techniques to better understand the properties of functional foods and nutraceuticals and establish their role in the maintenance of health and well-being, and in primary and secondary prevention of chronic disease. Our first industry partner is SWISSE Wellness Pty Ltd. A research laboratory has recently been established at La Trobe University for analyses of a range of biomarkers collected from ANSEC driven clinical trials.


Director: Associate Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos
Coordinator - Research Services: Dr Jessica Radcliffe

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 currently have a number of multicentre trials running: Mediterranean diet in Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (MEDINA) and in secondary prevention of Myocardial Infarct (AUSMED), high DHA [fish oil] in early cognitive decline (MEDIBRAIN), Intestinal permeability in ICU patients, as well as a number of trials being conducted primarily at LTU (obesity research projects on herb spice intervention, intestinal permeability, and quinoa intervention), including work on traditional food culture and health outcomes.

Executive team

Research members

Current Food for Life Collaborative Research HDR students projects

 Principal supervisor: Dr Audrey Tierney

Oana Tatucu (Co-supervisor Catherine Itsiopoulos)

Project title: Intestinal permeability in the critically ill: a tool to monitor clinical progress.

Elena Papamiltiadous (Co-supervisor Catherine Itsiopoulos)  
Project title: NAFLD Patients Lifestyle Intervention Study

Principal supervisor: Associate Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos

Stuart Keel (co-supervisors Connie Koklanis, Meri Vukicevic, Laima Brazionis)
Project title: Retinal vascular calibre predictors in children with type 1 diabetes (Submitted March 2015)

Spero Tsindos (Co-supervisor Antigone Kouris)
Project title: Culture of water consumption in an immigrant Greek-Cypriot community in Australia

Tania Thodis (Co-supervisors Antigone Kouris, Laima Brazionis)
Project title: 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.

Rochelle Opie (Co-supervisors Felice Jacka, Adrienne O'Neil)  
Project title: To investigate the efficacy and feasibility of a modified Mediterranean dietary intervention in individuals with major depression.

Michael Andrews (Co-supervisor John Hannon)
Project title: Optimal training and recovery: enabling the elite male athlete to optimise nutrition and hydration for training & game day performance and recovery

Teagan Frangos (Co-supervisors Audrey Tierney, Hassan Vally)
Project title: The impact of the Mediterranean diet in heart disease and interactions with pharmacotherapy

Monique Rose (Co-supervisors Connie Koklanis, Meri Vukicevic)
Project title: Psychosocial Impact of Repeated Intravitreal Injections on Patients with Diabetic Macular Oedema

Hannah Mary (Co-supervisors Audrey Tierney, Colleen Thomas, Jessica Radcliffe)      
Project title: The impact of the Mediterranean diet in heart disease

Andrea Bramley (Co-supervisor Colleen Thomas)                                                             
Project title: Cognitive decline in Type 2 Diabetes – intervention with omega 3-DHA. (MEDIBRAIN)

Principal supervisor: Mark Jois  

Serpil Kucuktepe (Co-supervisor Catherine Itsiopoulos)
Project Title: Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors in the Treatment and Prevention of Obesity and Associated Diseases

Diana Navaroperez (Co-supervisor Sue Shepherd)    
Project Title: Effects of Quinoa Seeds (Chenopodium quinoa) on the body composition, plasma profile and adipose tissue gene expression

Principal supervisor: Meri Vukicevic

Jess Boyle (Co-supervisors Connie Koklanis, Catherine Itsiopoulos)   
Project title: The psychosocial impact of repeated intravitreal injections on patients with neovascular age‐related macular degeneration

Principal supervisor: Regina Belski

Brooke Devlin (Co-supervisors Michael Kingsley, Dr Michael Leveritt (UQ), Dr Chee Kai Chan)
Project title: Nutrition knowledge, intake, body composition and performance of male team-based sport athletes.

Amelia Lee (Co-supervisors Jessica Radcliffe, Michelle Newton)  
Project title: Pregnancy Nutrition Knowledge

Gina Trackman (Co-supervisors Adrienne Forsyth, Russel Hoye)                    
Project title: 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 athletes

Principal supervisor: Sue Shepherd

Michelle Caldwell (Co-supervisors Chris Bigby, Audrey Tierney)
Project title: Non-compliance of restricted diets in people with coeliac disease, including people with intellectual disabilities

Helen Dean
Project title: An exploration of the key components of exemplary professional supervision practice for dietetic students

Maryam Tabesh

Program Research Questions:

Our key research questions fall under 4 themes:

Obesity and Metabolic Health

Chee Kai ChanNovel 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, carotenoids)
  • Nutrigenomics

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

Dr Meri VukicevicManaging 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

Dr Regina BelskiNutrition 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:

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

Intestinal permeability (IP) is a measure of how well the intestinal lining of the gut is functioning. When the intestinal lining becomes "leaky" it may cause symptoms like irritable bowel, malabsorption, allergies and more. Research has suggested that obesity can increase the leakiness of the gut, however more research needs to be carried out to investigate this.

You are eligible to participate if you:

  • are 18-65 years of age
  • have a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5kg/m2 or greater
  • have not taken antibiotics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) within the last fortnight
  • have not been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease
  • do not have gastrointestinal problems
  • are not pregnant
  • understand and can communicate well in English.

Participants will receive:

Free body composition assessments (valued at ~$120 AUD)

Free dietary assessment report.

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

Cognitive enhancement of Type 2 Diabetes with Omega 3 (HREC 2015.154)

Ethics approval for this study is expected in September 2015.

Catherine is the Head of School, , School of Allied Heath.

Catherine Itsiopoulos, Health Sciences