Is This Carb-Friendly Diet Healthier Than The Mediterranean Diet?

"it's associated with a significantly lower risk of chronic health problems, compared to other parts of the world"
atlantic diet"
atlantic diet
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

Perhaps best known for its wine and seafood, the geographical region near Spain and Portugal is being hailed for serving up a healthy way of eating, known as The Atlantic Diet (not to be confused with the more popular Mediterranean Diet)—and wellness gurus and health seekers are taking notice. According to recent studies, The Atlantic Diet is associated with a significantly lower risk of chronic health problems compared to other parts of the world. Find out what The Atlantic Diet entails and if it’s right for you—keep reading for dieticians’ breakdown.

What is The Atlantic Diet?

“The Atlantic Diet refers to the traditional dietary patterns of people living in northwestern Spain and northern Portugal—the Atlantic coast rather than the Mediterranean coast,” explained Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching. “This dietary pattern emphasizes vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, olive oil, nuts, seafood, and small amounts of wine and dairy.”

Good news if you’re a meat and potatoes or all-about-the-carbs kind of eater: The Atlantic Diet, also known as the Southern European Atlantic Diet (SEAD), contains a lot of them. The main food group within The Atlantic Diet includes bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes, with practitioners consuming six to eight daily servings. Following starches, nuts are prioritized—namely chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts—then olive oil, milk products, fish and seafood, lean meat, and eggs. “Another important feature of The Atlantic Diet is the cooking techniques used, such as steaming, boiling, grilling, and baking, which are a healthier alternative to frying,” Hilbert stated.

Besides focusing on the types of foods to eat and how they’re cooked, The Atlantic Diet encourages communal eating habits and eating seasonally. Studies show that those who eat with others more often feel happier and are more satisfied with life, are trusting of others, are engaged with their local communities, and have more friends they can depend on for support. Consuming foods that are in season ensures a diverse diet and produce that is enjoyed when they’re most nutrient-dense and flavorful, thanks to the varieties available throughout the year and less travel time and preservatives needed to maintain their freshness.

What are its benefits?

Improve metabolic health

Metabolic health is related to factors such as weight, blood pressure, metabolism, and blood sugar. Optimal metabolic health means the body can digest and absorb nutrients from the food that you eat without unhealthy spikes in blood sugar, inflammation, and insulin, and research shows that The Atlantic Diet may be beneficial for metabolic health. A 2024 study on The Atlantic Diet conducted by a team of researchers in Spain found that the subjects who followed it for six months were about 42 percent less likely to experience metabolic syndrome. “This study showed participants on The Atlantic Diet had reduced levels of obesity and lower HDL cholesterol as well as a decreased waist circumference,” Hilbert explained. “The effects of this diet are likely due to the high intake of plant foods and healthy fats like olive oil.” Anne Danahy, RDN, told Health that The Atlantic Diet can “promote a healthier metabolic profile because of its fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients.”

Promote heart health

Because of The Atlantic Diet’s emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids from fish and seafood, it can help lower your triglyceride levels and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends all adults eat fish at least twice a week for better cardiovascular health. Then, there are the monounsaturated fats from olive oil that The Atlantic Diet has going for it, which is high in antioxidants and helps protect your cholesterol from oxidation (more heart-healthy signs!). The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells.

Support longevity

Longevity expert Dan Buettner may not have counted areas of Spain or Portugal in his Blue Zone research (areas of the world with the longest living populations), but it turns out maybe he should have. According to recent studies, The Atlantic Diet is associated with a lower risk of mortality in older adults compared to other parts of the world. One study published in February of 2024 measured participants who followed the diet against those who didn’t and found a direct correlation with longevity. This is likely due to a focus on high-antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods like fresh produce, legumes, olive oil, fatty seafood, and an occasional glass of wine.

How does it compare to The Mediterranean Diet?

While the Atlantic and Mediterranean Diets incorporate whole grains, fruits, legumes, vegetables, olive oil, seafood, and moderate wine intake, The Atlantic Diet includes more red meat and dairy. The choice of carbohydrates is also different. “These diets are similar, but the biggest differences are that The Mediterranean Diet typically has more pasta while The Atlantic Diet includes carbs from sources like potatoes, rice, and bread,” Hilbert pointed out. “The typical vegetables one may find in The Atlantic Diet also differ slightly, as more often this diet may contain brassicas, which is a family of vegetables that include things like kale, cabbage, turnips, cauliflower, etc.” 

How to try it

The Atlantic Diet centers around prioritizing whole foods, seasonal ingredients, and social eating, making it a positive and sustainable way of eating. “For the majority of us (unless a health care provider has specified otherwise), eating foods with more fruits, vegetables, lean meat, seafood, legumes/pulses, and healthy fat (like olive oil) is health promoting and can lead to better blood sugar control, improved brain health, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and much more,” Hilbert expressed. Load up on fatty fish (like anchovies and sardines), seasonal produce, gut-friendly starches like potatoes and sourdough bread, and olive oil. The key is also good quality rather than processed or conventional foods, so opt for meat like pork and lamb and dairy like eggs and cheese—all organic, grass-fed, and local when possible.

Hilbert also shared the one caveat some experts and dietitians cite: the potential for overconsumption of red meat. “One thing we do know through lots of data is that red meat consumption in excess is linked to a higher risk of chronic disease, so it will be interesting to see further data on this and how it impacts health in the context of The Atlantic Diet.” Always work with your doctor or nutritionist to find a diet that works best for you. The best diet is the one that feels good for your lifestyle, goals, and body.