Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type



Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

Director of Thesis

Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, PhD, MS, RD

Second Reader

Marty Davey, MS, RD


The Impact of Nutritional Changes on Dietary Inflammatory Index: NEWSoul

Callie McLean; Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, PhD, MS, RD; Michael Wirth, PhD; Anthony Crimarco, MS

Background: Historically, a soul food diet consisted of mainly plant-based foods in West Africa and evolved to a mostly meat-based diet in the Southeastern United States. As a result, many soul foods today often exceed the recommended dietary guidelines for saturated fats and cholesterol. This is important to consider for dietary interventions focusing on African American populations, since they are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and chronic illness compared to all other ethnic groups. One way to examine the impact of diet on overall health is to assess changes in the inflammatory potential from diet. The Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII) is a valid instrument that researchers developed to measure the inflammatory potential of a diet. Previous research on the DII has indicated diets with high inflammatory potential to be positively correlated with higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers in the body.

Objective: To investigate how changes in diet at six months can impact DII scores and how changes in DII scores are related to changes in body weight among participants in the Nutritious Eating with Soul (NEW Soul) study.

Design: Six month, randomized 2-arm intervention

Methods: A total of 66 participants were randomized to either a plant-based vegan diet (n=32) or a low-fat omnivorous diet (n=34) in a culturally-tailored dietary intervention focused on modifying traditional soul foods into healthier recipes. Diets were supplemented by weekly classes of the Oldways African Heritage and Health program and A Taste of African Heritage (ATAH), a food pyramid guide, to ensure cultural competency. Participants had diet (three 24-hour dietary recalls) and body weight (digital scale) assessed at baseline and six months. Six-month changes in weight and DII were assessed. DII calculation is related to a global database based on data from 11 different populations. This study used different food parameters (micro- and macronutrients and individual food items) to calculate DII scores. Independent sample t tests were used to examine differences in DII change scores between groups and a Pearson correlation was conducted to examine the relationship between change in DII and weight loss.

Results: At the six months, the DII score of the entire sample significantly decreased (i.e. indicating a more anti-inflammatory diet) by -1.7 ±2.1 points (p

Conclusion: These results suggest that both intervention diets have a higher anti-inflammatory potential than the typical soul food diet participants consumed before the intervention. The DII score change was slightly greater in the vegan diet group than the omnivorous diet group, however the difference in change scores was not statistically significant. The correlation between the changes in body weight and the changes in DII scores was not statistically significant, suggesting that there was not a strong correlation between the two. The DII score data do not appear to favor one diet over the other, but do indicate that consuming more plant-based foods, which both diets recommended, could potentially have positive impacts on health. Future research should examine if health-related outcomes, other than weight loss, are associated with improvements in the DII among this population.

Conflict of Interest: None

Funding: The NEW Soul study is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health/NHLBI R01HL135220.

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