Hasta la vista, Mediterranean diet?
No bull, the Atlantic diet — the traditional eating plan in northwestern Spain and northern Portugal — is said to ease belly fat and improve HDL “good” cholesterol levels.
The diet consists of a lot of fish and seafood, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, olive oil, dried fruits (particularly chestnuts), milk, cheese, and moderate meat and wine intake.
A study published last week in JAMA Network Open followed more than 200 families from the rural Spanish community of A Estrada from March 2014 to May 2015.
121 families were directed to follow the Atlantic diet, while 110 families continued to consume their typical diet.
Atlantic dieters learned about their new eating plan over the course of three education sessions and received additional support such as a cooking class, written materials, and baskets of food.
At the start of the study and after 6 months, data was collected on the participants’ dietary intake, physical activity, medication use, and other variables.
Researchers in Spain also measured their waist circumference, triglyceride levels, HDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and fasting glucose levels.
These are the five factors for metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that raise the risk of developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
Of the 457 participants who didn’t have metabolic syndrome at the beginning of the trial, 23 developed it during the 6-month follow-up — 17 participants (7.3%) who followed their traditional diet and 6 participants (2.7%) who had switched to the Atlantic diet.
Of the 117 participants who met the criteria for metabolic syndrome at the start of the study, 18 of the Atlantic dieters (28.6%) and 16 in the control group (29.6%) shed that label.
The researchers reported that the Atlantic diet “had no significant effect on high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, or high fasting serum glucose levels,” but bettered waist circumference and HDL cholesterol levels.
“The Atlantic Diet presents significant potential for enhancing health due to its emphasis on nutrient-dense foods and family-oriented eating habits,” Michelle Routhenstein, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in heart disease at EntirelyNourished.com, told Healthline.
“By prioritizing wholesome ingredients and traditional cooking methods such as stewing, this diet enhances the bioavailability of nutrients, ensuring that the body can better absorb and utilize them,” she added.
Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, a California-based interventional cardiologist not involved with the new research, said its results are not surprising “as the diet is very similar to the well-studied and beneficial Mediterranean diet.”
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains, and extra virgin olive oil and allows for a moderate amount of fish, cheese, yogurt, and wine while eschewing red meat, sweets, sugary drinks, and butter.
The researchers in Spain also noted that the Atlantic diet “shares similarities” with the Mediterranean diet.
“These types of dietary patterns (Atlantic and Mediterranean Diets) have the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke and even cognitive decline such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and improve [gastrointestinal] function and the gut microbiome,” Tracy Crane, a University of Miami associate professor, told Healthline.
A study published in 2021 found that higher adherence to the Atlantic diet, also known as the Southern European Atlantic diet, was consistently associated with a lower risk of death.
There are some limitations to the new study, with the researchers acknowledging that “6 months may not have been long enough to properly assess metabolic changes. Follow-up of participants over a number of years could strengthen our results.”