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Mediterranean Diet Good for More Than Your Physical Health



If you've been following Dr. Gourmet for a while you know that following a Mediterranean-style Diet can help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, from heart disease to cancer, and help you manage or improve such conditions as diabetes and poor cholesterol scores. We also know that it may help reduce your risk of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease. Other studies have indicated that your diet may have an effect on your cognitive abilities: Low Carb Diets Affect Your Brain (Bite, 01/14/09).

A recent study published in the journal Appetite (2011;56(1):143-147) suggests that a Mediterranean Diet may help improve more than just your body's health - it may help improve your mood.

Researchers in Australia recruited 25 women between the ages of 19 and 30 to participate in their 10-day study. At the start of the study all of the participants responded to two questionnaires to assess their mood: first, a standardized questionnaire designed to measure an individual's mood in six dimensions: Depression, Anxiety, Anger, Vigour, Fatigue and Confusion. A second questionnaire assessed three mood factors: Alert, Calm and Content. A standardized mental performance assessment tested changes in cognition, measuring attention, working memory, long term memory and executive function.

Half of the women were assigned to a Diet Change group, while the other half were asked to continue their normal diet for the succeeding ten days. The Diet Change group received an eating plan, which specified the foods they should eat (and which they should avoid eating) for the ten days of the study. These women were asked to increase the amount of fruit, nuts, vegetables, fatty fish and whole grain cereals, while avoiding red meat, refined sugar and flour, pre-packaged or processed foods, all caffeinated products and soft drinks. (The number of calories they were to eat was not controlled in any way.) The women in both groups kept a food diary for the ten days of the study.

After ten days the two mood questionnaires and the cognitive tests were administered again and the results compared to the earlier outcomes.

Those women in the Diet Change group reported greater feelings of Vigour, while Alertness increased in the Diet Change group and actually decreased in the Usual Diet group. Most interestingly, those in the Usual Diet group reported lower feelings of Contentedness at the end of the study, while those who followed a Mediterranean Diet reported higher feelings of Contentedness.

On the other hand, those in the Usual Diet group performed two of the cognitive tasks more quickly at the end of the study than at the start, while those in the Diet Change group did not improve their scores. In only one cognitive test did the Diet Change group improve while the Usual Diet group did not.

What this means for you

Certainly this is a very small study and its design could be improved by providing all meals to all of the participants rather than allowing them to choose their own foods. But its results with regard to mood are intriguing: healthier may well mean happier.

First posted: January 19, 2011