Move over the Mediterranean diet: the Atlantic diet is in town

Many people will be familiar with the Mediterranean diet; your doctor may even have recommended that you try it out. Inspired by the traditional cuisine of regions along the Mediterranean coast, the combination of lean meats, seafood, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and plenty of fruits and vegetables is associated with many health benefits. But the world of nutrition is constantly evolving, and now there’s a newcomer: the Atlantic diet.

What is the Atlantic Diet?

Rather than focusing on the food of sunny southern Europe, the Atlantic diet draws inspiration from the traditional cuisine of 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, vegetables, whole grains and seafood, but there are some differences. Most notably, an Atlantic diet typically contains 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 is typically based on simple cooking methods such as grilling, baking and braising.

What are the benefits of the Atlantic Diet?

In addition to looking for ways to improve our health, nutrition and dietetics professionals are also interested in the environmental impact of the food we eat.

In an attempt to answer both questions simultaneously, a recent study reported on a six-month randomized clinical trial of the Atlantic Diet that took place in Spain between 2014 and 2015.

Data from 231 families were included, with an approximately equal split between those following the diet and the control group. The diet group was given access to nutritional advice to help them adapt to the requirements of the Atlantic diet, while the control group was 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 condition that puts a person at higher risk for conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and has been linked to obesity, sedentary lifestyles, overconsumption of alcohol and smoking, among other causes.

At this point the Atlantic diet performed quite well. Of the 457 participants who did not have MetS at the start of the trial, 23 developed it during the follow-up period. Of these, seventeen were in the control group and only six in the diet group, a statistically significant difference. A small number of people in both groups who previously met the criteria for MetS no longer met the criteria at the end of the trial.

Looking at individual indicators, the Atlantic diet was associated with smaller waist circumference and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol. Participants who followed the diet were also 42 percent less likely to have a new symptom of MetS at the end of the trial.

On the environmental issue, the results were less convincing. “There was no statistically significant difference in the reduction of dietary carbon footprint in the intervention group compared to the control group,” the paper reports.

What is the verdict?

The Atlantic Diet may not be a panacea for all our medical and environmental problems, but study participants did experience some positive health benefits – is it worth the hype?

“The bottom line is that if people generally eat a plant-based diet – rich in vegetables, fruits, healthy sources of fat, legumes and protein – this can improve a variety of risk factors for several chronic diseases,” dietitian Dr. Tracy Crane, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, to Healthline. Whether that’s the Mediterranean diet, the Atlantic diet, or a combination that better suits your personal preferences, the benefits will likely be similar.

Another important factor in this particular study was that families followed the diet together. “By prioritizing shared meals and nutrition practices within the family, individuals are more likely to adhere to healthier eating patterns,” registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Routhenstein explained to Healthline.

The authors said their work “makes important contributions to the field,” highlighting the strengths of the randomized design and objective measurements, but also highlighting limitations such as a short follow-up period and a lack of statistical power for the environmental data .

Overall, however, they conclude that traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean and Atlantic diets, should not be snorted.

“These findings suggest that traditional diets could serve as valuable tools to promote the convergence of human and planetary health, making them remarkable models of sustainable and healthy diets.”

The research has been published in Jama Network Open.

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