What is the Atlantic diet and how does it compare to the Mediterranean diet?

You’re likely familiar with the well-researched Mediterranean diet. And maybe you’ve even heard of the Nordic and Okinawan diets.

These traditional eating patterns, based on local, fresh and minimally processed foods, have been linked to numerous health and longevity benefits.

However, you may not be familiar with the Atlantic diet, an attention-grabbing cousin of the Mediterranean diet.

According to new research, following this dietary pattern can protect against metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that, when combined, dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that a one in five Canadian adults has metabolic syndrome.

Here’s a guide to the Atlantic diet and a breakdown of the latest study and how the Atlantic diet and the Mediterranean diet compare.

What’s in the Atlantic Diet?

The Atlantic diet, also called the South European Atlantic diet, is the traditional eating pattern of northwestern Spain and northern Portugal.

Daily foods include fruits and vegetables, potatoes, bread and whole grains, nuts, dairy products, and olive oil.

The diet also includes moderate amounts of fish and seafood, especially cod, beef, pork, poultry and eggs. Three to four servings of legumes (for example, beans and lentils) are consumed each week.

Fatty meats, sweets and soft drinks are eaten in moderation, no more than monthly.

Soups and stews can often be found on an Atlantic diet menu.

Mineral water is often consumed during the day. Wine is consumed in moderation, usually with meals.

Study of the Atlantic diet

The latest findings, published Feb. 7 in the journal JAMA Network Open, come from the GALIAT study, a six-month randomized controlled trial that investigated the effect of the traditional Atlantic diet on metabolic health in families living in In Estrada, a city in northwestern Spain. (GALIAT stands for Galicia Atlantic Diet.)

The researchers studied 231 families, a total of 518 participants with an average age of 47 years.

Half of the families were assigned to follow the traditional Atlantic diet and the rest served as a control group.

Participants in the Atlantic diet group received educational sessions on how to modify their eating habits, a cooking class, written materials, and a recipe book.

They also received free food baskets, delivered once every three weeks, containing traditional Atlantic diet foods such as turnips, cabbage, tomatoes, mussels, low-fat cheese, olive oil and wine.

Participants in the control group were advised to maintain their usual lifestyle.

Among participants who did not have metabolic syndrome at the start of the study, after six months those eating the Atlantic diet had a significantly lower risk of developing the syndrome compared to participants in the control group.

Participants were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if they had three of the following five risk factors: 1) a waist circumference greater than 40 inches for men or greater than 34.5 inches for women, 2) triglycerides (fats) in elevated blood, 3) a low blood. HDL (good) cholesterol, 4) high blood pressure, and 5) fasting blood glucose of 6.2 mmol/L or more.

The Atlantic diet also reduced waist circumference and improved HDL cholesterol.

Also, compared to the control group, the Atlantic diet group was 42% less likely to develop an additional risk factor for metabolic syndrome over the six months.

This is not the first study to attribute possible health benefits to the Atlantic diet. Previous research has suggested that sticking to the eating pattern promotes weight loss, lowers LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides, lowers blood pressure, lowers inflammation, improves insulin sensitivity and protects against heart attack and depression.

Strengths, limitations

A strong point was the randomized design studies, which allowed him to assess cause and effect.

However, it is possible that unknown unmeasured factors influenced the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

All study participants were of Spanish or White European descent. It is not known whether the Atlantic diet would benefit ethnic groups at higher risk of metabolic syndrome.

Participants received free food baskets, so findings may not apply to groups with food access problems.

The Mediterranean diet versus the Atlantic diet

A clear difference between these two traditional diets revolves around red meat.

The Mediterranean diet treats red meat as an occasional food that can be eaten in small portions only a few times a month. A moderate amount of red meat can be included in the Atlantic diet.

However, the similarities in these two eating patterns are important for maintaining good health.

Both focus on daily intake of nutrient-dense plant foods, such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts, and olive oil. And both include a moderate amount of fish and shellfish.

Both eating patterns also promote social and cultural aspects of healthy eating such as cooking meals at home, mindful eating, sharing meals with family, as well as daily physical activity.

Follow these principles and you’ll end up with a healthy eating plan.

Leslie Beck, a dietitian in private practice based in Toronto, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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