A Cousin to the Mediterranean Diet Shows 2 Big Benefits

3 min read

Feb. 12, 2024 – People who followed the Atlantic diet eating pattern significantly reduced their waistlines and improved their cholesterol levels, a new study shows.

The Atlantic diet refers to the traditional way of eating in parts of Spain and Portugal that focuses on home-cooked local, fresh, and minimally processed seasonal products. It’s similar to the popular Mediterranean diet, both of which emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and olive oil. The Atlantic diet additionally focuses on fish and seafood, potatoes, bread, milk, and cheese, while limiting meat and wine.

The researchers randomly assigned the members of 231 families in Spain to either follow a guided Atlantic diet for 6 months or simply follow their usual diet and lifestyle and serve as a comparison group to the Atlantic diet eaters. The families in the study included 231 men and 343 women who ranged in age from 18 to 85 years old, with an average age of 47. Those on the Atlantic diet attended diet educational sessions and cooking classes, and they received educational materials as well as food baskets. The findings were published this month in JAMA Network Open.

The researchers found that the people in the Atlantic diet group were 68% less likely to be newly diagnosed with metabolic syndrome during the study’s 6-month follow-up period. Among people in the Atlantic group, 2.7% were newly diagnosed with metabolic syndrome at 6 months, compared to 7.3% of people in the control group.

Metabolic syndrome (sometimes called insulin resistance syndrome) may be diagnosed if a person has three or more of the following:

  • A large waistline or a body shape similar to an apple
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar levels
  • High levels of triglycerides
  • Low levels of HDL cholesterol

Compared to the control group, people in the study who followed the Atlantic diet reduced their waistlines and increased their levels of HDL cholesterol, which is sometimes called “good cholesterol.” There was no measurable difference between the groups for blood pressure, blood sugar, or triglyceride levels, but the people in the Atlantic diet group were less likely to have multiple major conditions that could contribute to metabolic syndrome than the control group at the end of the study period.

The findings are important because about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have metabolic syndrome, which increases a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, according to data from the National Institutes of Health.

Interestingly, among the 117 people in the study who already had metabolic syndrome at the start of the project, nearly 30% no longer met the criteria for the syndrome at the end of the study, and people in both the Atlantic diet and the control groups were equally likely to reduce their symptoms.

The study also sought to examine whether the Atlantic diet had environmental sustainability benefits, such as by reducing carbon footprint emissions, but there was no meaningful difference between the Atlantic diet group and the group who didn’t change their diet patterns. The researchers estimated carbon emissions based on how each food listed in a participant’s food diary was produced, transported and sold, and eventually consumed. The researchers wrote that an additional analysis predicted that, had the study been much larger, the environmental impact of following the Atlantic diet would have been significantly measurable and shown the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.