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The Atlantic Diet: Why Eating Local, Whole Foods May Improve Your Health

This trendy diet may help stave off chronic disease, but it's one of many eating patterns that prioritize whole foods and richness.

Jessica Rendall Wellness Writer
Jessica is a writer on the Wellness team with a focus on health news. Before CNET, she worked in local journalism covering public health issues, business and music.
Expertise Medical news, pregnancy topics and health hacks that don't cost money Credentials
  • Added coconut oil to cheap coffee before keto made it cool.
Jessica Rendall
4 min read
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You've already heard of the Mediterranean diet, chock-full of heart-healthy benefits and links to general wellness. But have you heard of the Atlantic diet? 

A study published this month in JAMA linked a diet plentiful in fish, dried fruits, vegetables, beans and minimally processed foods with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a term for a variety of common health conditions that raise the risk of chronic disease.

Specifically, researchers in 2014 and 2015 recruited families, which included more than 500 individual participants, to compare their rate of developing metabolic syndrome during a six-month follow-up. A secondary analysis of the study was conducted from 2021 to late 2023. Those who followed the Atlantic diet were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome (3% of people who didn't have metabolic syndrome in the study) than those who stuck with their usual lifestyle (7%). 

The Atlantic diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it's far from new -- it's based on the lifestyle of people from northern Portugal and northwestern Spain and the foods that are locally available. 

It also mirrors the Mediterranean diet and similar approaches to eating in that it prioritizes a few key food groups without emphasizing restriction. 

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What's metabolic syndrome? 

Metabolic syndrome is a general term given when someone has a few different health markers that raise your risk for developing chronic disease. The markers that make up metabolic syndrome include things like high blood sugar, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and more. 

When put together, these individual risk factors compound the risk for developing long-lasting or dangerous health conditions such as diabetes, stroke or heart disease -- another catch-all term for the number-one cause of death in the US. 

Metabolic syndrome can also be called insulin resistance syndrome. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, about one in three adults in the US have it. 

In terms of the specific parts of metabolic syndrome that can be affected by the Atlantic diet: according to the results of the study from this month, participants who followed the diet were less likely to have a high waist circumference and low levels of "good cholesterol." Their risk of high blood pressure, fasting insulin and triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) weren't affected. 

What foods are in the Atlantic diet? 

According to the JAMA study, the Atlantic diet centers on: 

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains 
  • Beans
  • Olive oil 
  • Fish and seafood
  • Starch-based products (such as potatoes or rice)
  • Dried fruits and nuts, notably chestnuts 
  • Dairy (milk and cheese) 
  • Moderate amounts of meat and wine 

The Atlantic diet gets its name because the countries and cultures on which it's modeled sit on the Atlantic ocean in southern Europe -- northern Portugal and northwestern Spain, also referred to as Galacia. 

But as Healthline reports, it places a particular emphasis on local, seasonal foods and family-centered eating, so eating Atlantic style may look a little different from one person to the next. 

Atlantic diet vs. Mediterranean diet: Finding the common denominator in the healthiest diets 

If you're wondering how a diet rich in plants, healthy fats and lean proteins is that different than a Mediterranean diet, that'd be a fair take. Mediterranean and Atlantic diets (or any sustainable, heart-healthy diet in general) both emphasize nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, olive oil, fish and legumes, while minimizing red meat and heavily processed foods. According to the The Washington Post, some differences within the Atlantic diet is that it may include more meat and more brassicas, the type of vegetable family kale and cabbage belongs to.

But the significance of the Atlantic (or the Mediterranean diet, for that matter) may have less to do with the region or body of water. If you were to comb through the archives of nutrition tips from medical experts and dietitians online, you'll find that their advice for most people's plates remains roughly the same: fill up on colorful plants (fruits and vegetables), get your fill of healthy fats (like olive oil, avocados and even cheese for satiating and overall body function), look for lean proteins (beans, lentils and animal protein like fish) and carb it up with a whole grain or starchy base. 

Also in the descriptions of these diets you'll likely find the word "moderation," as in limited but not restricted consumption, of things like red meat, alcohol or even sugary sweets that are fine to eat as long as they're not the main meal everyday. For example, in this list of foods to eat on the Mediterranean diet, you'll see a plethora of delicious foods that will keep you full and fuel your body with the nutrients you need, but it also includes some of life's delicacies, like a bit of chocolate. 

Read more: Dietitians Want You to Stop Dieting. Here's Why 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.