Participants who followed the ‘Atlantic’ diet for six months lowered their risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to those who ate a normal diet, according to a new study published February 7 in JAMA network opened.
Metabolic syndrome is the term for a group of health factors, including increased waist circumference, elevated triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
The positive impact of the Atlantic diet on factors like cholesterol and belly fat found in this study would be expected, says Katherine Patton, RD, who works at the Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute and was not involved in the study used to be. “The Atlantic diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome,” she says. Metabolic syndrome is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, she adds.
It is estimated that people with metabolic syndrome have a 50 to 60 percent higher risk of heart disease than people without it.
The findings provide important evidence for the potential of traditional diets to improve critical risk factors for heart disease and other chronic conditions, says lead researcher Mar Calvo-Malvar, PhD, a specialist in laboratory medicine at the University Clinical Hospital of Santiago de Compostela. in Spain.
What is the Atlantic Diet?
The Atlantic diet is the name researchers gave to the traditional diet in northwestern Spain and Portugal. Although the diet has similarities to the Mediterranean diet, there are some notable differences, says Dr. Calvo-Malvar.
“Like the Mediterranean diet, the Atlantic diet emphasizes the consumption of fresh, seasonal and locally produced foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes (dry beans, lentils and chickpeas), fish, dairy products and olive oil. for dressing and cooking,” she says. But the Atlantic diet typically includes a higher proportion of fish, milk, potatoes, fruits and vegetables than the Mediterranean diet, says Calvo-Malvar.
Dietary intervention focused on local and traditional foods
The six-month study was a secondary analysis of data from a community-based study conducted between 2014 and 2015 in the rural town of A Estrada in northwestern Spain. A total of 250 families (574 adults) were randomized to follow either the Atlantic diet, an eating pattern based on traditions and locally available fish, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, or the control group, which was instructed to continue following their usual diet. .
People following the Atlantic diet ate large amounts of fish and seafood, along with starch-based foods (such as potatoes), dried fruit, cheese, milk, and a moderate intake of meat and wine. The intervention group also attended nutrition education sessions and cooking classes and received baskets with the types of foods to eat.
Calories consumed, physical activity, medication use, and other variables were assessed at baseline and at the end of the study, and researchers did their best to control for these factors in their analysis.
Of the 457 people without metabolic syndrome who completed the trial, 23 developed the condition: 6 in the intervention group (2.7 percent of participants) and 17 in the control group (7.3 percent).
Atlantic diet led to reduction in belly fat and bad cholesterol
Waist circumference and LDL cholesterol (also called ‘bad’ cholesterol) decreased in the intervention group, while blood pressure, triglycerides and fasting blood sugar levels did not differ significantly.
“These findings are encouraging given the short duration of the intervention, namely six months in each family, and the challenge of reversing certain chronic conditions and comorbidities associated with the metabolic syndrome, such as hypertension or diabetes,” says Calvo -Malvar.
It’s worth noting that in Spain (where the trial was held), the health care system ensures that most people with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes receive treatment and that their disease is controlled, she says.
These findings suggest that the Atlantic diet could be helpful in managing important aspects of health and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome, says Elisabetta Politi, MPH, RD, a certified diabetes care and education specialist at Duke Health in Durham , North Carolina, who was not involved in the study. “The statistically significant finding of a reduction in waist circumference is important. We know that carrying extra weight in the abdominal area increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” she says.
To measure your waist correctly, stand and place a measuring tape around your waist, just above your hip bones, and measure just after you exhale. The risk increases with a waist size greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men.
Is the Atlantic Diet Healthier than the Mediterranean Diet?
The findings from this study are significant, but not because it shows that the Atlantic diet ‘beats’ the Mediterranean diet, or vice versa. That’s not the question we should focus on here, says Calvo-Malvar. “It has been shown that both diets are healthy. I believe the question is not about determining which is more or less healthy, but rather which diet best suits the population where it is being promoted,” she says.
There’s no doubt that the way we eat is one of the most important modifiable risk factors for heart disease and other chronic diseases, and dietary changes are an important strategy to prevent millions of deaths every year around the world, says Calvo-Malvar.
“However, changing dietary habits is challenging because habits are influenced by complex and intertwined factors at the societal and individual levels, including culture, food affordability, immediate friends and family, and the surrounding community,” she says. The assumption that most people would replace unhealthy foods with healthy foods and stick to those changes because of the latest research on the associated disease risk is not realistic, Calvo-Malvar says.
“I believe that the best diet is one that reflects the cultural and gastronomic heritage of the area where it is promoted, with local and economically accessible foods,” she says.
Politi agrees. “This study takes into account important factors that are ignored in many nutrition studies: what foods are available locally, what are the cultural factors that determine what people eat, and what people enjoy and feel better about eating,” says she.
Designing a diet that takes into account the dynamics that influence our food choices makes it more likely that people can stick to that healthier diet and reduce their risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, Politi says.
Interested in the Atlantic Diet? Expert tips on how to change your diet
Several aspects of the Atlantic diet can be adopted to improve our eating habits on this side of the pond.
Cooking techniques People who followed the Atlantean diet often prepared their food by steaming, boiling, baking, grilling, or stewing it. “This could translate well here, for example for people who like to cook in a Crock-Pot,” says Politi.
That kind of “set it and forget it” slow cooking can leave less tender cuts of meat soggy and juicy, she says. “It can also save money because those cuts of meat are often cheaper, and it also allows different parts of the animal to be consumed, rather than just the most tender fillets that we often focus on,” says Politi.
More fish To follow the principles of the Atlantic Diet, you need to increase your pescatarian quotient. “For my clients who do not eat fish, I start with one portion per week. If they eat one portion, we try to increase that to two,” says Politi.
Healthy exchange Patton recommends starting with some healthy substitutions. “Swap deli meats for tuna, hummus and natural nut butters, and swap chips and pretzels for nuts, seeds, fruit or raw vegetables,” she says.
Change up your burger game by skipping the burger and opting for a salmon burger, bean burger or veggie burger instead, says Patton.
Less highly processed foods Highly processed foods like chips and cookies contain ingredients that make us want to keep eating them, says Politi. “As a result, we tend to overeat them. I don’t hear many of my clients say they couldn’t stop eating quinoa or brown rice, but it can be difficult to give up highly processed snacks,” she says.