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New project to conduct a trial of legume consumption for people living with severe mental illness

Lindsey Jude was awarded $40,000 in the 2019 round of UNSW Medicine Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and Maridulu Budyari Gumal Clinical Academic Group (CAG) Collaborative Research Seed Funding for the project: Giving Legumes the leg up: Impact of increased legume consumption on metabolic risk factors in people experiencing Severe Mental Illness (SMI).

Name:  Lindsey Jude

Position/s: Dietitian, Keeping the Body in Mind Program, Bondi Junction, SESLHD

How has the Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and CAG enabled you to develop your research interests?

People experiencing severe mental illness (SMI) have a 20-year reduced life expectancy, predominantly due to cardiometabolic disease. Due to a multitude of individual, system and social factors, people living with SMI are more likely to have metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Working as a dietitian in Mental Health Services can be challenging as there  has been limited nutrition research in this area. I have a real passion about growing the evidence-base for novel dietary interventions that will address poor nutrition in people living with SMI, in particular nutrition strategies to reduce the rates of cardiovascular disease in mental health. Epidemiological studies have consistently found legumes decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity as well as improve gut health in the general population. However, there have been no studies conducted in mental health on this topic. Through Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction Theme and CAG seed funding I have been enabled to conduct a trial of legume consumption for people living with SMI and the effect it will have on cardiovascular and other metabolic risk factors which could potentially help to reduce the 20-year gap in life expectancy.

Your project, Giving Legumes the leg up: Impact of increased legume consumption on metabolic risk factors in people experiencing Severe Mental Illness (SMI) was successful in the 2019 round of Theme and CAG collaborative research seed funding. Can you please tell us about the project?

Research is finding the short fall in life expectancy is sadly growing in people experiencing SMI mainly due to cardicometabolic disease. Additionally, people experiencing SMI have been found to have diets high in energy-dense, high salt and highly processed foods and have lower intakes of fruit and fibre.

Legumes are low in fat, high in fibre and protein and generally have a low glycaemic index. Epidemiological studies have consistently found legumes decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity as well as improve gut health. This study will look to determine the effects of legume consumption in addition to standard care on metabolic risk factors. This study is a two-armed study. The study group will be provided with four serves of legumes per week for the duration of the study. They will be provided with weekly dietetic education and cooking classes with a focus on legume-based meals. A total of 12 dietetic education and 12 cooking classes will be provided throughout the course of the study.

The control group will be provided with weekly dietetic education and cooking classes with a focus on healthy meat-based meals (or meat alternative meals for vegetarians). A total of 12 dietetic educations and 12 cooking classes will be provided throughout the course of the study. Pre and post metabolic markers will be compared.

What impact do you imagine the project will have?

We hope the project will find positive metabolic health results which will contribute to improving cardiometabolic risk factors of people living with severe mental illness and in turn improve life expectancy. Additionally, through this study we hope to make legume education and consumption in cooking groups a routine part of standard care.

How will the project support new collaborations?

This pilot study will provide preliminary data concerning the feasibility and acceptability of legume-focused diets in this population and will establish the efficacy of the intervention in improving diet quality as a means of mitigating poor metabolic health. The findings of this pilot study will inform future collaborative research efforts, including identification of valid biomarkers of no-soy legume consumption.

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