Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A close relative of the Mediterranean diet: Understanding the Atlantic diet

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People in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain follow a diet known as the Southern European Traditional Atlantic Diet, or simply the Atlantic diet. Research suggests that this diet might be linked to better heart health and a lower risk of early death from diseases like cancer and heart disease.

A recent study published in the JAMA Network Open journal showed that the Atlantic diet also slightly decreased the chances of developing metabolic syndrome. This syndrome includes higher blood pressure, blood sugars, triglycerides, and belly fat, all of which increase the risk of serious health issues such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

The Atlantic diet revolves around foods grown or found in that specific part of Europe, similar to its famous relative, the Mediterranean diet.

Dr. Walter Willett, a prominent nutrition researcher at Harvard, commented on the study, emphasizing its importance. He noted that the principles of the well-studied Traditional Mediterranean Diet can be applied to other cultures as well, making this research significant.

Because it’s made from plants and comes from nearby places, the Atlantic diet also helps take care of the Earth by supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, according to the people who did the research.

“This shows that following a diet like this, with a focus on getting food locally whenever possible, is good for both people and the planet. That’s the main thing to remember,” said Dr. David Katz, who knows a lot about preventing health issues and founded True Health Initiative, a group of experts from around the world who promote healthy living. He didn’t work on this study.

So, what exactly is the Atlantic diet?
The Atlantic diet is about eating fresh fish, especially cod, some red meat and pork, dairy, legumes, fresh vegetables, potatoes usually in veggie soups, whole-grain bread, and having a bit of wine. While some of the foods might be specific to certain areas in Portugal and Spain, experts say you can find a similar diet in parts of Czechia, Poland, and the UK.

Now, if we compare it to the popular Mediterranean diet that has won awards, it’s mostly plant-based. In this diet, most of the meal is made up of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and seeds, with a few nuts, and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil.

Use red meat in moderation, mostly for flavor. It’s good to have healthy, fatty fish that has omega-3s. Eat less eggs, dairy, and poultry compared to the typical Western diet.

Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Atlantic diet is about homemade meals shared with family, focusing on social connections. Paying attention while eating, spending time with others during meals, and daily walking or biking are key in the Mediterranean diet – just as crucial as the food itself.

“We suggest around 20 minutes per meal” for mindful eating and socializing, mentioned Atlanta dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi in a CNN interview about the Mediterranean diet.

“Doing these things might be tough for many, but you can start with small steps,” shared Al Bochi, a spokesperson from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Just switch off the TV, keep your phone away, focus on good talks, chew your food slowly, and take breaks between bites. That’s how you can begin your journey towards mindful eating.”

New findings
A study released in December 2023 discovered that following the Atlantic diet, also called the Southern European Atlantic diet, reduced the chances of dying from any cause over a 14-year span in Spain, Czechia, Poland, and the UK, especially for those without severe long-term illnesses. This diet also lowered the risk of death from heart disease and cancer in the nearly 36,000 participants aged 18 to 96 years.

Previous research suggests why these food types might be helpful, the authors explained. Eating more fish, legumes, and veggies is linked to lower levels of C-reactive protein, indicating less inflammation in the body.

Eating fish like cod, beans, and veggies is good for keeping your blood pressure in check. Fish, in general, is helpful in lowering a type of fat in your blood that can make your arteries and heart less healthy.

Some studies found that following a diet similar to what people eat in the Atlantic region can help with things like insulin, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and waist size. A study in 2021 even discovered that sticking to this diet for three years can lower the chance of dying early by 14% in adults over 60.

But not all foods in the Atlantic diet are equally good. Fish, beans, veggies, and whole grains were linked to a lower risk of dying in recent research. On the other hand, eating dairy and potatoes didn’t show the same benefits. In fact, having red and processed meat might actually increase your risk of health issues.

Studies have shown that red and processed meats, including pork, can make you more likely to have heart and metabolic problems, and even cancer, especially in the colon. And eating lots of potatoes might raise the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

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