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What is the Atlantic diet?

The Atlantic diet is all about fresh, simple ingredients and social, sustainable eating. It shares many similarities with its popular southern cousin, the Mediterranean diet - but there are some key differences. 

Is the Atlantic diet as healthy as the highly praised Mediterranean diet? And why is it so good for both people and planet?  

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The Atlantic diet 

A traditional way of eating in northwest Spain, the Atlantic diet has caught the attention of health experts - years after the Mediterranean diet rose to fame for its ability to prevent disease and prolong life expectancy. 

This diet belongs to Galicia, a Spanish region with its own unique culture and an Atlantic coastline, both of which have shaped the way locals treat and enjoy their meals. 

Eating, community, and happiness

The Atlantic diet, like the Mediterranean diet, places importance on the cultural and social setting of meals. Eating is often enjoyed with family and friends and is seen as a way to bring older and younger members of the community together. 

This sense of community and togetherness through food features in many of the world's healthiest regions, like the Blue Zones, where residents are generally healthier, happier and live for longer.

What foods are in the Atlantic diet? 

The Atlantic diet is made up of fresh, local, and seasonal foods. The ingredients are cooked in a simple way. They aren't overly tampered with or processed with things like additives, preservatives, added fats and sugars. Instead, it's about celebrating a product in its natural form - like a fish served whole and seasoned with olive oil and vinegar. 

There's a lot of steaming, boiling, grilling and stewing in the Atlantic diet1. In contrast, Mediterranean cooking includes a greater tendency to fry foods in oil. 

1. Plenty of fish and seafood 

The Atlantic Ocean offers generous varieties of fish and other seafood. This includes sea bream, octopus, monkfish, thornback rays, cuttlefish, hake, red mullet, and mackerel. 

An important staple of the diet, followers typically eat more seafood than in the surrounding countries - 3-4 portions a week2

2. Lots of fruit and vegetables 

Like the Mediterranean diet, a variety of rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables also feature heavily in Atlantic gastronomy. Galician locals particularly like cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. These are high in glucosinolates, natural compounds that may help to prevent several serious diseases, including some cancers3

It's usual to eat at least three portions of fruit and two portions of vegetables a day1

3. More meat and dairy 

One thing that sets the Atlantic diet apart from Mediterranean gastronomy is a greater emphasis on meat and dairy. Milk based products - mainly milk and cheese - are eaten 3-4 times a day, lean meat 3-4 times a week, and fatty meats a few times a month1

In contrast, a typical Mediterranean diet is more plant-based, with dairy and red meats featuring only occasionally.  

4. Local and fresh produce 

This is a way of eating based around local, seasonal, and fresh ingredients. For example, in a typical Galician coastline village, seafood fished from the Atlantic will travel from sea to plate the same day.

This freshness has three benefits: more nutrients are preserved, foods are flavourful, and the food system is more sustainable - meaning it limits food waste and environmentally harmful processes.  

5. A place for wine

People who follow this diet tend to drink more wine than those in the Mediterranean. However, while both eating cultures enjoy wine as part of the dining experience, drinking to excess doesn't feature. 

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What are the health benefits of the Atlantic diet?

The Atlantic and Mediterranean diets share a love of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, whole grains, beans, and moderate wine. From years of research into the latter, we know that:

  • Eating plenty of fruit and veg provides fibre, antioxidants and vitamins to help reduce your chances of heart disease, cancers and bowel problems. 

  • Cooking with olive oil gives you antioxidants that can support a healthy gut, reduce the risk of some cancers, and help prevent stroke and heart disease.

  • Enjoying carbohydrates in the form of beans and whole grains means lots of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. 

  • Drinking red wine modestly may bring benefits, although these are likely brought about by reduced stress and positive social environments, more than the properties of the wine itself.  Alcohol should always be drunk within safer limits.

Now, more focussed research into people following the Atlantic diet is unveiling important health benefits. 

Heart problems and type 2 diabetes

Published in 2024, in a study of 574 people, one group followed a traditional Atlantic diet, while the other group continued their usual eating habits4

After six months, those in the Atlantic diet group were around 70% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome. This describes a group of health issues that give you a high chance of developing type 2 diabetes and heart conditions like heart disease and stroke - including having a large waistline, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.  

The Atlantic diet group ended up with smaller waistlines and higher levels of HDL cholesterol, known as the healthy or good cholesterol. They were also less likely to develop some major conditions that can contribute to metabolic syndrome, compared with the other group. 

Metabolic syndrome is a huge public health problem in countries like the UK where it affects 1 in 4 adults and US, where it affects 1 in 35,6.  

Any-cause death and cancer

Another 2024 study focussed on whether an Atlantic diet could help prevent life-threatening conditions7. It included around 36,000 adults living throughout Europe and found that this way of eating was linked with lower death rates. 

Specifically, on the Atlantic diet, the average person was found to live 13.6 years longer, partly because they were less likely to die from conditions like heart disease and cancer. 


In 2023, the Atlantic diet was linked to lower levels of depression. Of the 13,297 people studied across Europe, 1,437 people developed depression after four years8.  

The study monitored those who had followed the traditional foods of this diet - namely cod and other fresh fish, red meat, pork, dairy, legumes, vegetables, vegetable soup, potatoes, whole grain bread, alongside drinking a moderate amount of wine.  

The more thoroughly people had followed this way of eating, the less likely they were to report depressive symptoms, to be on anti-depressants, or to have seen a doctor for this issue.  

The Atlantic diet for people and planet

Eating fresh, local ingredients doesn't only have a nutritional benefit. There's an environmental one too.  

The Atlantic diet is made up of zero-mile foods that don't have far to travel from source to plate - from local farms, water sources and gardens to food markets, restaurants and homes. This reduces the carbon emissions of producing and transporting things like vegetables, seafood, meat, potatoes and dairy.  

The environmental impact of the Atlantic diet is yet to be measured on a great scale. However, researchers predict that it's philosophy of freshness and locality has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions4.  

This kind of sustainable diet, along with other planetary health diets, can help us eat in a way that's good for both people and planet. The idea is that that if enough people adopt it, the global food supply chain will gradually adapt to become a more sustainable system. This could create less environmental damage and better access to nutritious food in the parts of the world that need it. 

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Can you try the Atlantic diet?

It's great to understand the eating habits of the healthiest cultures in the world. Yet, if you're looking to try an Atlantic style diet outside of northern Portugal and Spain, what's local and fresh to you is going to change.  

For example, if you add lots of Atlantic seafood into your diet, but live far from this coastline, these products are going to be less fresh and nutritious - and probably more processed with preservatives. 

Instead, you might consider an adapted version of the diet. In simple terms, this means taking on its principles; learning about the delicious foods local to you, using simple cookery, and cutting out ultra-processed and packaged foods, like ready meals and takeaways. 

At the end of the day, the Atlantic diet is one example of a healthy diet - varied, balanced in all the beneficial food groups, and minimally processed.   

Top tips to get you started

  • Explore your nearest farmers' market for locally produced and seasonal food.

  • Swap butter and your regular vegetable oil for olive oil when cooking.

  • Learn how to prepare, cook, and flavour food in a more simple way with resources from books or the internet.

A note on red meat

While it's true that the Atlantic diet traditionally features red meat and pork, we know that eating too much can increase your chances of developing heart problems, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Experts recommend eating no more than 70g a day to look after your health9

Further reading 

  1. Mar Calvo-Malvar et al: A randomised, family-focused dietary intervention to evaluate the Atlantic diet: the GALIAT study protocol

  2. Mar Calvo-Malvar et al: A randomised, family-focused dietary intervention to evaluate the Atlantic diet: Table 1 food consumption recommendations

  3. Connolly et al: Glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables and their potential role in chronic disease.  

  4. Cambeses-Franco et al: Traditional Atlantic diet and its effect on health and the environment: a secondary analysis of the GALIAT cluster randomized clinical trial

  5. Heart UK: Metabolic syndrome.  

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Metabolic syndrome prevalence by race/ethnicity and sex in the United States, national health and nutrition examination survey, 1988–2012

  7. Carballo-Casla et al: The Southern European Atlantic diet and all-cause and cause-specific mortality.  

  8. Carballo-Casla et al: The Southern European Atlantic diet and depression risk.  

  9. The British Heart Foundation: Is red meat ok? 

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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