Moody? Forgetful? – Take the ten day Mediterranean Diet challenge

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Sep 14, 11:29 AM in and . No comments.

Are you finding that your performance is slipping at work? It could be time to think about changing your diet.

For day to day living and for peak performance in the workplace, it’s important to supply yourself with the right fuel to combat stress as well as to help concentration, alertness, memory and cognition.

There is some good evidence that nutrition has an impact on cognitive performance and mood but will changing to a healthier diet make much difference in the short term? Maybe even in less than two weeks?

You may be surprised.

Results of a recent study by McMillan and colleagues, examining the effects of ten days of changing to a Mediterranean Diet on mood and cognitive performance, suggested that this dietary change may indeed benefit mood and some aspects of cognitive performance in healthy adults.

In this study, young female adults were randomised to a dietary change group (the Mediterranean diet) and a non dietary change group. Mood and cognitive performance were assessed at baseline and after ten days. After ten days, the women on the Mediterranean diet showed significant improvements in self-rated vigour, alertness and contentment. Changes in cognitive tasks were somewhat inconsistent but improvement in reaction times on spatial working memory tasks was reported. The finding that adhering to the Mediterranean diet improved reaction times for this task may indicate the diet assists in sustaining long term attention. McMillan and co suggested that improvements may be due to an increase in Omega-3 intake or magnesium consumption supplied by the Mediterranean diet.

This study couldn’t rule out the possibility that non-dietary factors may have contributed to these effects and was probably too small a study to suggest any conclusive effects. Further study is obviously required. Given the well reported cardiovascular benefits of following a Mediterranean diet, however, the possible additional benefits of improvements in mood and cognition make it look even more appealing. Benefits shown after such a short time also suggest it is never too late to change and that following a healthy diet could help you to feel better about work and improve your attention span even after ten days.

So what does the Mediterranean diet entail?

The Mediterranean diet consists mainly of fruit, vegetables, mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil, oily fish, fibre rich foods, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds with a modest amount of alcohol. Saturated fats and amounts of meat, meat products, dairy products & processed foods are limited.

Guidelines for the ten day challenge:

  1. Get plenty if exercise
  2. Always eat breakfast, include fruit and wholegrains
  3. Eat lots of fruit, vegetables and pulses/legumes
  4. Replace butter with healthy fats such as olive oil or canola
  5. Include the “good fats” from nuts, avocado, sunflower seeds
  6. Eat fish at least twice a week, especially omega 3 rich oily fish such as tuna, herring, sardines and salmon
  7. Reduce the amount of meat you eat each week, use smaller amounts in your meals and try a vegetarian meal twice a week.
  8. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to season
  9. Include dairy products- including a variety or reduced fat cheeses and greek yoghurt
  10. Drink red wine in moderation
  11. Enjoy meals with family and friends

It’s worth a shot. Take the ten day challenge and if it doesn’t help your performance and mood you will be reaping the cardiovascular health benefits in the long term.

References:

McMillan, L., Owen, L., Kras, M. & Scholey, A. (2010). Behavioural effects of a 10-day Mediterranean diet. Results from a pilot study evaluating mood and cognitive performance. Appetite, 56(1), 143-147.

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.

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