The Atlantic diet is the new rival to the Mediterranean diet. Which one is better for you?

A new study is shedding light on the health benefits of the Atlantic diet. Like the Mediterranean diet, this style of eating is based on the dietary patterns of people living in a specific region of Europe, but this one hones in on northwest Spain and northern Portugal. These populations have some of the lowest incidences of heart disease.

The most recent study in JAMA Network found that those who followed the Atlantic diet for a six-month period had a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase risk of heart disease and diabetes.

While this research is promising, the Atlantic diet is not that well-known. But with its emphasis on eating tasty foods like bread and bringing people together for communal eating, don't be surprised if the Atlantic diet picks up steam soon.

What is the Atlantic diet?

The Atlantic diet is the traditional diet of people from northern Portugal and Galicia in northwestern Spain. It’s full of local, fresh and whole foods — including fruit, vegetables, bread, pulses, nuts, fish and milk products.

The most common food group within the Atlantic diet is starch, such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals and other whole grains, with people consuming these six to eight times per day. The diet also includes some meat, mainly beef and pork, as well as eggs. Olive oil is a common condiment, and wine is consumed at mealtimes.

The Atlantic diet isn’t only about the types of food consumed, but it also emphasizes the style of cooking and eating. “The Atlantic diet promotes health through nutrient-rich foods and communal eating habits, utilizing traditional cooking methods like stewing to enhance nutrient absorption,” says Michelle Routhenstein, preventive cardiology dietitian at

Atlantic diet foods

The Atlantic diet prioritizes the following foods:

  • Bread

  • Cereals, especially whole grain

  • Rice

  • Pasta

  • Potatoes

  • Fruit

  • Vegetables

  • Olive oil

  • Milk products

  • Fish and seafood

  • Lean meat

  • Eggs

  • Pulses

  • Nuts, especially chestnuts, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts

Atlantic diet benefits

New research on the Atlantic diet observed over 200 families that either followed the diet or stuck to their normal eating pattern for six months. The authors of the study were interested in which group had higher rates of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, such as excess body fat, high blood pressure or blood sugar, and abnormal triglyceride or cholesterol levels.

After six months, those who followed the Atlantic diet had a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those in the control group. “The Atlantic diet particularly benefits cardiometabolic health,” says Routhenstein.

The study also found that the Atlantic diet decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, "so it could really influence the risk of heart disease down the line,” NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar said on TODAY on Feb. 17, 2024.

Previous research has also showed that higher adherence to the diet was linked to lower risk of death.

There are several benefits to the Atlantic diet that may play a role in outcomes observed in the recent studies. First, the abundance of fish contributes healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce bodily inflammation and benefit the heart. As a matter of fact, the American Heart Association recommends all adults eat fish at least twice a week to reduce the risk of heart attack.

The combination of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses and nuts provides fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which are crucial for heart health. Although most Americans don’t eat enough daily fiber, observational studies show that meeting the daily 25 to 30 grams reduces the risk of heart disease. And nutrients like potassium and magnesium, both of which are abundant in plant-based foods, contribute to healthy blood pressure and heart function.

“Systematic reviews of feeding trials and prospective population studies consistently show that dietary patterns rich in plant foods ... and seafood and low in processed foods are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases,” says Dr. Mar Calvo-Malvar, one of the authors of the study and a specialist in Laboratory Medicine at the University Clinical Hospital of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Atlantic Diet versus Mediterranean Diet

Although Spain is part of the Mediterranean region, the Atlantic diet differs slightly from the traditional Mediterranean diet. Both diets emphasize fresh ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, whole grains and olive oil, but the Mediterranean diet is more plant-forward. The Atlantic diet highlights different ingredients, such as bread, fish, milk, and potatoes, as well as some red meat. Keeping up with the stewing preparation method, vegetable soup is a common staple on the Atlantic diet.

“Both the Atlantic diet and the Mediterranean diet offer scientific evidence supporting their benefits for heart health, with the Atlantic diet providing omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and the Mediterranean diet offering antioxidants and healthy fats from olive oil and plant-based foods,” says Routhenstein. “However, the Mediterranean Diet has a more extensive research base, particularly regarding its association with reduced cardiovascular risk."

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