A recent study published in JAMA Network highlights the health advantages of the Atlantic diet, which is akin to the Mediterranean diet but is based on the dietary habits of individuals from northwest Spain and northern Portugal. These regions boast some of the lowest rates of heart disease.

According to the study, individuals who adhered to the Atlantic diet for a 6-month period experienced a reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that elevate the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

While the Atlantic diet may not be widely recognized, its focus on enjoying flavorful foods such as bread and promoting communal eating suggests that it may gain popularity in the near future.

What is the Atlantic diet?

The Atlantic diet represents the traditional dietary pattern of individuals from northern Portugal and Galicia in northwestern Spain. It features a rich variety of local, fresh, and whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, bread, legumes, nuts, fish, and dairy products.

Starch, particularly in the form of bread, pasta, rice, cereals, and other whole grains, is the predominant food group within the Atlantic diet, consumed approximately six to eight times per day. Additionally, the diet includes moderate amounts of meat, primarily beef and pork, as well as eggs. Olive oil serves as a common condiment, and wine is enjoyed during meals.

Beyond the selection of foods, the Atlantic diet underscores the importance of cooking and eating styles. Michelle Routhenstein, a preventive cardiology dietitian at EntirelyNourished.com, notes, "The Atlantic diet promotes health through nutrient-rich foods and communal eating habits, employing traditional cooking techniques like stewing to optimize nutrient absorption."

The Atlantic diet emphasizes the consumption of the following foods:

  • Bread
  • Cereals, particularly whole grains
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Dairy products
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean meats
  • Eggs
  • Pulses (legumes)

Atlantic diet benefits

New research focusing on the Atlantic diet involved over 200 families who either adhered to the diet or maintained their usual eating habits for six months. The study aimed to determine which group exhibited higher rates of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, including excess body fat, high blood pressure or blood sugar, and abnormal triglyceride or cholesterol levels.

After the six-month period, individuals who followed the Atlantic diet demonstrated a reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to those in the control group. Michelle Routhenstein notes, "The Atlantic diet particularly benefits cardiometabolic health, as this research indicates improvements in risk factors such as high LDL cholesterol levels and enhanced weight management, ultimately lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome."

Previous research has indicated that higher adherence to the Atlantic diet is associated with a lower risk of mortality.

There are several advantages to the Atlantic diet that may contribute to the outcomes observed in recent studies. Firstly, the inclusion of fish provides healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body and promote heart health. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that all adults consume fish at least twice a week to lower the risk of heart attack.

Furthermore, the Atlantic diet's combination of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, and nuts offers fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which are essential for heart health. Despite the fact that most Americans do not consume enough fiber daily, observational studies have demonstrated that meeting the recommended daily intake of 25 to 30 grams can reduce the risk of heart disease. Additionally, nutrients such as potassium and magnesium, which are abundant in plant-based foods, help maintain healthy blood pressure and heart function.

Atlantic Diet versus Mediterranean Diet

Although Spain is situated within the Mediterranean region, the Atlantic diet diverges slightly from the traditional Mediterranean diet. While both diets prioritize fresh ingredients like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and olive oil, the Mediterranean diet tends to be more plant-centric. On the other hand, the Atlantic diet emphasizes different components such as bread, fish, dairy products, potatoes, and some red meat. Additionally, the stewing method of preparation is common in the Atlantic diet, with vegetable soup being a staple dish.

"Both the Atlantic diet and the Mediterranean diet have scientific evidence supporting their benefits for heart health," notes Routhenstein. "The Atlantic diet provides omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, while the Mediterranean diet offers antioxidants and healthy fats from olive oil and plant-based foods. However, the Mediterranean diet has a more extensive research base, particularly concerning its association with reduced cardiovascular risk."