The Atlantic Diet — the traditional way of eating in northwestern Spain and Portugal — has major health benefits, a new study has found.
New research highlights the benefits of the Atlantic Diet, which focuses on local, fresh, minimally processed, seasonal foods — finding that it can reduce the risks of developing risk factors that could lead to health issues including heart disease and stroke.
The study, published in JAMA Network Open earlier this month, found that individuals who followed the Atlantic Diet for a period of six months were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors that can lead to diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Traditional in northwestern Spain and Portugal, the Atlantic diet is composed of local, fresh, minimally processed, seasonal foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and olive oil. The diet also consists of plenty of fish and seafood, starch-based products, dried fruits, nuts (particularly chestnuts), milk, cheese, and moderate meat and wine intake.
“The Atlantic diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, therefore its health benefits may also be the same,” registered dietitian Fareeha Jay tells Healthnews, explaining that the latter is associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes and a risk reduction for type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.
The main difference is that the Atlantic diet focuses on stewed, broiled, grilled, or baked foods.
For this study, 126 families living in the rural town of A Estrada in northwestern Spain received educational sessions, cooking classes, written supporting material, and foods from the Atlantic diet for a six-month period, while 124 families continued with their habitual lifestyle. Participants were asked to keep a food journal throughout the process.
The researchers found that the group that received the Atlantic diet saw a significant reduction in the incidence of metabolic syndrome, particularly when it came to certain diagnostic criteria of metabolic syndrome such as central obesity and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “good” kind).
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the group of risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, impaired fasting blood glucose, high triglyceride levels (which can lead to too much “bad” cholesterol), and low levels of HDL cholesterol.
When a person has three or more of these factors, they are considered to have metabolic syndrome and are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. About one in three adults in the United States have metabolic syndrome, according to the NHLBI.
Focusing on eating seasonal, local, fresh ingredients is a great way to improve your health, Jay says, but this won’t necessarily look the same for all locations and ethnicities. She says people should, therefore, get to know the seasonal and local foods within their areas so they can adapt to what is accessible to them.
People can also make modifications to the Atlantic diet depending on their cultural background, she adds. For example, the Atlantic diet might include whole grain bread, but South Asians might prefer to eat whole grain roti.
“The philosophy and principles of the diet should remain,” she says. “However, people from different ethnicities can modify it according to their tastes, likes, dislikes, and cultures.”