What is the Atlantic diet, 'cousin' of the Mediterranean diet?

Smoked mackerel portioned on a plate with lemon and herbs.
The Atlantic diet focuses on foods found along the Atlantic coasts, and involves a lot of fish and seafood. (Getty Images)

The Mediterranean diet has been held up as the gold standard of healthy diets for some years now - but its lesser-known cousin, the Atlantic diet, is in the spotlight now.

It comes after a study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, suggested that the Atlantic diet was linked to better heart health and lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group condition involving high blood pressure, blood sugars, triglycerides and belly fat. Combined, this condition results in a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The study examined how principles from the Mediterranean diet could be applied to other cultures.The Atlantic diet is primarily eaten by people living in along the Atlantic coast, including Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland and parts of Scandinavia.

Differences between the Atlantic diet and the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has been widely studied and is often recommended by doctors and scientists because it includes plenty of plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts.

It also emphasises the benefits of olive oil as the primary source of fat. Fish and poultry has more importance in this diet than red meat, which should only be eaten infrequently and in small amounts.

Watch: Food Swaps to Help You Follow a Mediterranean-Based Diet

The Atlantic diet is quite similar, in the sense that it also highlights the importance of eating plenty of fresh vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Both diets also allow moderate wine consumption.

However, the Atlantic diet has a particular focus on seafood, which is a staple of coastal areas.

Unlike the Mediterranean diet, its coastal cousin does allow for moderate amounts of red meat, like beef, as well as pork.

Benefits of the Atlantic diet

Steven Dick, director of the Fitness Group, tells Yahoo UK that the Atlantic diet has a number of benefits that come with eating fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

“Fresh fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and shellfish are all common in the Atlantic diet, being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are fantastic for heart health and reducing inflammation. This is supplemented with plenty of fruits and vegetables, bursting with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall well-being,” he says.

Cropped shot of female hands passing a bowl of French fries, various seafood served on the dining table with beautiful sunlight. Sharing and togetherness concept.
Plenty of fish and seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids can be very beneficial for health. (Getty Images)

Aside from fish, whole grains like oats, barley and whole wheat are also staples of the diet and provide fibre that support digestion and help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

While olive oil has a more prominent focus in the Mediterranean diet, Dick says that both diets share a Spanish influence, which means olive oil can also be found in abundance in the Atlantic diet.

Olive oil is “packed with monounsaturated fats that in measured quantities can be linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions”.

“Overall this approach to eating is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, thanks to the heart-healthy fats found in seafood and olive oil, as well as the abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” Dick says.

“Plus, the emphasis on fresh, whole foods means you're getting plenty of nourishment without the added sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed ingredients often found in modern diets.”

Risks of metabolic syndrome

The study found that people who followed the Atlantic diet for a six-month period had a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Endurance sports nutrition coach and personal trainer Alanna Kate Derrick tells Yahoo UK that metabolic syndrome is a “a cluster of conditions like excess visceral fat, high blood sugar, hypertension and poor cholesterol profiles that amplify cardiovascular risks as well as diabetes”.

According to the NHS, the condition is linked to insulin resistance. You are at higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome if you:

  • are living with obesity

  • eat a high-saturated-fat diet

  • do not exercise much

  • have a Hispanic or South Asian background

  • smoke

  • drink a lot of alcohol

As you get older, the risk of getting metabolic syndrome also increases. However, the new study suggests that adopting a diet like the Atlantic diet could help prevent this.

“Even modest adherence [to the Atlantic diet] appears protective,” Derrick adds.

“Metabolic disease afflicts over 20% of adults today, fueled by modern ultra-processed diets, physical inactivity, and microbiome disruption. But traditional regional eating with an emphasis on fresh, intact whole foods high in phytonutrients may help counter some modern risk trajectories and comorbidities.”

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