Over a vital role in overall well-being and

 

                        Over
time it has been well established that a healthy and nutritiously balanced diet
plays a vital role in overall well-being and health. Among a range of different
diets gaining popularity, the Mediterranean diet is a new favourite. Previous
research attempts have already proved biological effects of Mediterranean diet
expressed in improved physiological condition, however, influence on cognitive
performance and mood were not investigated thoroughly before. The primary aim
of this study was to identify the extent to which Mediterranean diet adherence
influences cognitive performance and mood with the help of Computerised Mental
Performance Assessment (COMPASS). The results of the study appeared to be not
fully comprehensive, however, some suggestions regarding dietary change and its
benefits on mood and cognitive aspects were introduced.

             The Mediterranean
diet consists of consuming fatty fish, fruits and vegetables, olive oil,
legumes and whole grains. This diet provides nutrients that support brain
function such as, magnesium, essential fatty acids, proteins, vitamins
(especially Vitamin E and C) and antioxidants.  According to McMillan (2010), “There have been
a number of Mediterranean diet intervention studies demonstrating improvements
in endothelial cell function, inflammation and insulin resistance stroke and
cardiovascular outcomes and in rheumatoid arthritis.” (p. 1) But when it comes
to studies on the benefits of diet on mental functioning, the research is
mostly made up of supplementation studies or studies involving increased intake
of one food source or nutrient. This particular experiment explores the effect
of an entire dietary change (namely, the Mediterranean diet) on mood changes
and cognitive function in healthy participants. Most of the research on this
topic was based on epidemiological studies till date which have shown results
such as reduced age-related cognitive decline and lower risk of developing
dementia. A recent study was conducted in 2009 on the effects of diet on
cognitive functioning which revealed that various diet regimens differentially
impact cognitive behaviour. Further studies have also shown that increase in
magnesium and essential fatty acids may improve anxiety and depression.

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            This experiment was a single-blind, randomised, parallel
group trial consisting of 25 young females randomly divided into the No Change
(NC) control group and the Diet Change (DC) group. The study was conducted for
a period of 10 days, during which various mood and cognitive ability assessing
tests were given to participants on the day they started the experiment (Day 1)
and then on the last day of the experiment (Day 10).  Participants in the DC group had to adhere to
a strict nutrient dense Mediterranean diet (there was no calorie restriction)
while participants in the control group (NC) had to continue their usual daily
diet. Both groups were instructed to keep a food diary.

            The tests conducted were the 65-item Profile of Mood
States (POMS) questionnaire, which measures six mood dimensions (depression,
anxiety, anger, vigour, fatigue and confusion), the Bond and Lader Visual
Analogue Scales (VAS) which derives three mood factors: ‘Alert’, ‘Calm’ and
‘Content’. The Computerised Mental Performance Assessment (COMPASS) test was
conducted to measure changes in cognitive function such as working memory,
attention, long term memory and executive function. (McMillan, 2010) The
results showed that while there was no significant difference in the two
groups’ waist size and baseline weight, compared with the NC group, the DC
group showed measurable developments in self-rated vigour, alertness and
feelings of contentment. But changes in cognitive tasks were slightly
inconsistent. (McMillan, 2010) This depicts that although the Mediterranean
diet has a positive effect on mood aspects, the effects on cognitive function
were limited to reaction time variables. For example, for tasks of numeric
working memory and word recall it showed that reaction time improved in the
control group and not in the DC group (McMillan, 2010). The cause for this
discrepancy is not clear but it reflects time differences and a possible
artefact of practice effects. One of the most important findings was a highly
significant improvement in reaction times on spatial memory in the DC group.
This shows that the diet assists in sustaining long term attention. Another
important result was observed on self-reported mood measures despite the study
being as short as 10 days which shows consistent mood effects.  These improvements could be attributed to the
increase in consumption of Omega-3 and magnesium. The mean scores for POMS
showed an improvement in the DC group, with individuals of this group showing
decreased scores of total mood disturbance.

            These
results show that while having a nutrient rich diet may have directly improved
their cognitive function and mood, non dietary factors could also have
contributed. For example, although the participants were not explicitly told
about the Mediterranean diet, it is possible that participants of the DC group
could have surmised that their diet was healthier which led to expectations of
well-being, which in turn could have had a direct or indirect effect on their
mood. Similarly, this could have led to worse mood in the NC group. This raises
a question of what constitutes a true control group in a study like this.
Moreover, the study was conducted on a comparatively less number of
participants and over the course of only 10 days. Replication with larger
sample pool and over an extended period of time could help to understand the
potential applications of nutrition to cognitive performance, which would not
only benefit the public for conventional reasons but it could also probably
supplement conventional treatments for mood dysfunction.