The Atlantic Diet Can Help Shrink Belly Fat And Lower Bad Cholesterol

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In a recent study published on February 7 in JAMA Network Open, participants who adhered to the “Atlantic” diet for six months had a reduced likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome to those following a regular diet.

Metabolic syndrome encompasses a cluster of health indicators, including bigger waistlines, elevated triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and increased blood sugar levels.

According to Katherina Patton, RD, from the Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute, who was not involved in the study, the positive effects of the Atlantic diet on factors such as cholesterol levels and abdominal fat observed in the study were anticipated. She notes that the Atlantic diet closely resembles the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome – a significant risk factor for cardiovascular ailments.

Individuals with metabolic syndrome may face a 50 to 60 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to those without the condition.

Principal investigator Mar Calvo-Malvar, PhD, a specialist in laboratory medicine at the University Clinical Hospital of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, highlights the importance of the study’s findings, noting that they provide crucial evidence supporting the potential of traditional diets in ameliorating key risk factors for heart disease and other chronic illnesses.


What Exactly Is the Atlantic Diet?

The Atlantic diet, as termed by investigators, reflects the traditional dietary pattern observed in northwestern Spain and Portugal. While it bears resemblance to the Mediterranean diet, Dr. Calvo-Malvar highlights that there are noteworthy distinctions between the two dietary patterns.

Dr. Calvo-Malvar explains, “Like the Mediterranean diet, the Atlantic diet emphasizes the consumption of fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced foods such as fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses (dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas), fish, dairy products, and olive oil, used for dressing and cooking.”

However, she also shares that the Atlantic diet typically includes a greater amount of fish, milk, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables than the Mediterranean diet.


Nutritional Intervention Emphasizing Locally Sourced and Traditional Foods

The six-month study conducted a secondary analysis of data derived from a community-focused trial held between 2014 and 2015 in the rural town of A Estrada, situated in northwestern Spain. A total of 250 families, comprising 574 adults, were randomly assigned to either follow the Atlantic diet – a dietary regimen rooted in local traditions featuring abundant fish, seasonal fresh produce, and other regional staples – or to the control group, instructed to maintain their usual dietary habits.

Participants adhering to the Atlantic diet consumed generous portions of fish and seafood alongside starch-based foods such as potatoes, supplemented with dry fruits, cheese, milk, and moderate amounts of meat and wine. Moreover, individuals in the intervention group attended nutrition education sessions and cooking classes, in addition to receiving baskets containing the recommended foods to facilitate adherence to the dietary protocol.

Various factors including caloric intake, physical activity levels, medication usage, and other relevant variables were assessed both at the beginning and conclusion of the study, with researchers meticulously controlling for these factors during their analysis.

Among the 457 participants without metabolic syndrome who completed the trial, 23 individuals subsequently developed the condition, with 6 cases occurring in the intervention group (constituting 2.7 percent of participants) and 17 cases in the control group (representing 7.3 percent).


Benefits of Atlantic Diet: Decreased Belly Fat and Improved Cholesterol Levels

Notably, the Atlantic diet demonstrated favorable effects on abdominal adiposity and LDL cholesterol levels (commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol), with reductions observed in waist circumference and LDL cholesterol levels within the intervention group. Conversely, blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and fasting blood sugar levels did not exhibit significant differences between the intervention and control groups.

“These findings are encouraging given the short duration of the intervention, specifically six months with each family, and the challenge of reversing some chronic conditions and comorbidities associated with metabolic syndrome, such as hypertension or diabetes,” says Dr. Calvo-Malvar.

In Spain, where the trial took place, the healthcare system ensures that the majority of individuals with chronic conditions like hypertension or diabetes receive treatment and effectively manage their diseases, she explains.

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, suggests that these findings imply the potential benefits of the Atlantic diet in addressing crucial health aspects and reducing the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.

“The statistically significant finding of a reduction of waistline 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.

For accurate waist measurement, stand upright and encircle a tape measure around your waist, just above your hip bones, ensuring to measure after exhaling. The risk escalates with a waist circumference exceeding 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men.


Comparing the Health Benefits of the Atlantic Diet and the Mediterranean Diet

The significance of the study lies not in determining whether the Atlantic diet “beats” the Mediterranean diet or vice versa, emphasizes Dr. Calvo-Malvar.

“Both dietary patterns have been shown to be healthy. I believe the question is not about determining which one is more or less healthy, but rather which dietary pattern best suits the population where it is being promoted,” she says.

Undoubtedly, our dietary habits represent one of the most influential modifiable risk factors for heart disease and other chronic illnesses, and dietary modifications serve as a crucial strategy in averting millions of deaths annually worldwide, notes Dr. Calvo-Malvar.

“However, changing dietary habits is challenging, as habits are influenced by complex and intertwined societal and individual-level factors, 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 ones, and stick with those changes, because of the latest research about their associated disease risk, isn’t realistic, says Dr. Calvo-Malvar.

“I believe the best diet is one that aligns with the cultural and gastronomic heritage of the area where it is being promoted, featuring local and economically accessible foods,” she says.

Politi agrees. “This study takes important factors into account that many dietary studies leave out: what foods are available locally, what are the cultural factors that shape what people eat, and what do people enjoy and feel better eating,” she says.

Politi highlights that by formulating a dietary plan that takes into account the factors influencing our food choices, it becomes more feasible for individuals to adhere to a healthier eating regimen, thereby reducing their susceptibility to chronic illnesses, including heart disease.


Experts Explain Tips on How to Tweak Your Diet Towards the Atlantic Diet

According to the experts, there are many aspects to the Atlantic diet that can be adopted into your own diet to improve your eating habits.

Cooking Techniques: Those that eat the Atlantic diet normally prepare their food by boiling, steaming, grilling, baking, or stewing. Politi says, “This could translate well here, for example, people who like cooking in a Crock-Pot.”

She adds that this type of “set it and forget it” slow cooking makes less-tender meat cuts moist and juicy.

“It can also save money because those cuts of meat are often less expensive, 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.

Eat More Fish: To truly follow the Atlantic diet, you need to add to your fish intake. Politi advises, “For my clients who eat no fish, I have them start at one serving a week. If they eat one serving, we try to increase that to two.”

Make Healthy Swaps: Patton recommend beginning by making some healthy swaps or substitutions. “Swap deli meat for tuna, hummus, and natural nut butter, and swap chips and pretzels for nuts, seeds, fruit, or raw vegetables,” she says.

She also suggests changing up your burger game by skipping the hamburger and opting for a salmon burger, bean burger, or veggie burger instead.

Lessen Highly Processed Food Intake: Politi shares that usually, highly processed foods such as chips and cookies are full of ingredients that make people want to eat more of them.

She says, “As a result, we tend to overeat them. I don’t hear many of my clients tell me that they couldn’t stop eating quinoa or brown rice — but it can be hard to put down highly processed snacks.”