The Atlantic diet may lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes — and you can still eat meat and potatoes. Here are 5 tips to get started.

A plate containing two pork chops and side helpings of asparagus stalks and small potatoes.
Along with poultry and fish, there’s room for pork, beef and potatoes on the Atlantic diet. (Getty Images)

While the Mediterranean diet often takes the top spot as the best diet to follow, its cousin the Atlantic diet — or Southern European Atlantic diet — deserves some attention too.

Much like the Mediterranean diet, the Atlantic diet is all about having a variety of plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits and whole grains; seafood; and healthy fats like olive oil. “The main differences are that the Atlantic diet includes more seafood, dairy, lean meat, nuts, potatoes and bread, while the Mediterranean diet includes more pasta,” Amanda Blechman, a registered dietitian and director of health and scientific affairs at Danone North America, tells Yahoo Life.

The Atlantic diet is rooted in the traditional eating habits of northern Portugal and northwest Spain. And it’s worth pointing out that in the Galicia region of northwest Spain, life expectancy is high — with more than 1,800 centenarians registered in 2020 — and there’s a low incidence of deaths by cardiovascular disease. Here’s what you need to know about this eating plan.

The health benefits of the Atlantic diet are impressive, including the potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. In a recent study from the GALIAT trial, families that followed the Atlantic diet for six months had a significant decrease in the risk of developing metabolic syndrome — a group of conditions that increase the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes — compared to the control group.

While the diet has numerous health benefits, it isn’t for everyone. “The downside of this diet is that it may be higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than the Mediterranean diet, as it suggests more red meat and dairy products,” Lisa Andrews, a dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, tells Yahoo Life. But that’s also what may make the Atlantic diet more appealing and sustainable for those who don’t want to significantly cut back on meat or dairy.

Beyond the food, the Atlantic diet emphasizes the importance of family meals, daily physical activity and mindfulness. “Meals are often shared events, bringing together communities to enjoy freshly caught seafood and locally sourced produce in a mindful way,” Michelle Routhenstein, a preventive cardiology dietitian at Entirely Nourished, tells Yahoo Life.

Seasonal and local fruits and vegetables (such as cruciferous ones, like cabbage and cauliflower, and starchy ones, like potatoes), lean proteins (fish, seafood, poultry), whole grains, legumes and healthy fats, including nuts, are the focus of the Atlantic diet.

You can also have moderate amounts of dairy, eggs and red meat (beef and pork), while limiting the amounts of highly processed, sugary or saturated fat foods such as processed meats, refined grains (such as white bread and white rice), sweets and sugary drinks. “This is a sustainable eating pattern versus a fad diet,” says Andrews.

Ready to begin? Our experts advise gradually adding some of the elements of the Atlantic diet to your meals rather than making drastic changes all at once. “This can help ease the transition and make it more sustainable in the long term,” says Routhenstein.

“Focusing on nutritious foods you can add versus things to subtract can help keep a positive spin on making changes,” explains Blechman. If changing your main dish seems daunting, start by introducing a fruit, vegetable, legume or whole grain as a side. Think about which meal doesn’t have as many plant-based options and start incorporating more into that one first.

Try adding berries to your morning oatmeal, sliced almonds to your yogurt, a side salad or handful of shredded carrots to your sandwich, or switch to whole wheat bread to boost your fiber, vitamins and minerals intake.

“One of the main ways of food preparation on the Atlantic diet is stewing, which preserves nutrients and tends to avoid the formation of harmful advanced glycation end products (AGEs) associated with high-heat cooking methods,” explains Routhenstein. AGEs are linked to heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, kidney disease, poor bone health, memory loss and more.

Slow cookers are a great appliance for stewing. If you’ve never stewed food before, choose a variety of ingredients such as seafood, lean meats, vegetables and legumes (here are some recipes to get you started). “Use fresh herbs, spices and aromatics to enhance the taste of your stew,” says Routhenstein.

Pick one day a week to replace animal-based proteins with plant-based options, such as beans, legumes and tofu. These substitutions help increase the amount of lean protein and fiber in meals while lowering the amount of saturated fat. Blechman suggests swapping out ground meat for beans in chili or having a sandwich with mashed chickpea salad in place of chicken salad.

Having fruit as your main sweet treat cuts down on added sugar and boosts your fiber intake. Or have it as a snack, such as pairing fruit with protein-rich Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey.

Group meals are an important part of the Atlantic diet culture. “This meal style stresses the importance of family meals, which have been shown to reduce the risk of suicide, depression and risky behavior in adolescents,” says Andrews. “Rates of obesity also tend to be lower when parents enforce family meal time.”

Choose one meal and carve out at least 10 minutes to sit undistracted with family, friends or roommates to socialize and enjoy your food together. Gradually build up the length of time and number of meals per week.

Here's what a day’s worth of meals might look like on the eating plan:

Breakfast: Whole grain cereal with yogurt, berries and a drizzle of honey

Lunch: Lentil and vegetable stew with a slice of whole grain bread

Snack: Apple with walnuts

Dinner: Baked cod with roasted broccoli and potato wedges with a glass of red wine (in moderation)

Dessert: Fresh fruit tart with whole grain crust topped with Greek yogurt

Beverages: Water

Maxine Yeung is a dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach.