Many people will be familiar with the Mediterranean diet – your doctor might even have recommended you try it out. Inspired by the traditional cuisine of regions along the Mediterranean coast, the combination of lean meat, seafood, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and plenty of fruits and vegetables has been associated with many health benefits. But the world of nutrition is ever evolving, and now there’s a new kid on the block: the Atlantic diet.
What is the Atlantic diet?
Instead of focusing on the food of sunny Southern Europe, the Atlantic diet instead takes its inspiration from traditional cuisine found in northern Portugal and the northwestern Spanish autonomous community of Galicia.
It’s not a million miles away from the Mediterranean diet, with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains as well as seafood, but there are some differences. Most notably, an Atlantic diet would typically contain more dairy and starchy carbohydrates, such as bread and potatoes. And there’s more good news: moderate consumption of red wine is also recommended.
The diet emphasizes using local, minimally processed produce wherever possible, and typically relies on simple cooking methods such as grilling, baking, and stewing.
What are the benefits of the Atlantic diet?
As well as searching for ways to improve our health, nutrition and dietetics professionals are also interested in the environmental impact of the food we eat.
Seeking to address both of these questions simultaneously, a recent study reported on a 6-month randomized clinical trial of the Atlantic diet that took place in Spain between 2014 and 2015.
Data from 231 families were included, with a roughly even split between those following the diet and the control group. The diet group were given access to nutrition counseling to help them adapt to the requirements of the Atlantic diet, whereas the control group were advised to maintain their usual routine.
In terms of health, the study assessed the impact of following an Atlantic diet on indicators of metabolic syndrome (MetS). This is an umbrella term for a physiological state that puts someone at higher risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and it’s been associated with obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, overconsumption of alcohol, and smoking, among other factors.
On this point, the Atlantic diet performed quite well. Of the 457 participants who did not have MetS at the start of the trial, 23 of them went on to develop it during the follow-up period. Of these, 17 were in the control group, and just six were in the diet group, a statistically significant difference. A small number of people in both groups who had previously met the criteria for MetS no longer did by the end of the trial.
Looking at individual indicators, the Atlantic diet was associated with reduced waist circumference and lower “bad” cholesterol. Participants following the diet were also 42 percent less likely to have a new symptom of MetS by the end of the trial.
On the environmental question, the results were less persuasive. “There was no statistically significant difference in the reduction in dietary carbon footprint emissions in the intervention group compared with the control group,” the paper reports.
What’s the verdict?
The Atlantic diet may not be a panacea to all our medical and environmental woes, but the study participants did experience some positive health benefits – is it worth the hype?
“The takeaway is if people generally follow a plant-based diet – high in vegetables, fruit, healthy sources of fat, legumes and protein – it can improve a variety of risk factors for several chronic diseases,” dietician Dr Tracy Crane, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Healthline. Whether that’s the Mediterranean diet, the Atlantic diet, or some combination that better suits your personal preferences, the benefits are likely to be similar.
Another important factor in this particular study was that families followed the diet together. “By prioritizing shared meals and dietary habits within the family unit, individuals are more likely to adhere to healthier eating patterns,” registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Routhenstein explained to Healthline.
The authors said that their work “provides important contributions to the field,” emphasizing the strengths of the randomized design and objective measures, but also highlighted limitations, such as a short follow-up period and a lack of statistical power for the environmental data.
Overall, though, they conclude that traditional diets, like the Mediterranean and Atlantic diets, are not to be sniffed at.
“These findings suggest that traditional diets could serve as valuable tools to promote the convergence of human and planetary health, making them noteworthy models of sustainable and healthy dietary patterns.”
The study is published in Jama Network Open.