My Take on the New Diet That's Making Waves

A new diet fad is making waves across the mainstream media...

Some are claiming it's about to supplant the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest way of eating. Not so fast...

Nicknamed the "Atlantic diet," it hails from northern Spain and Portugal. It shares a lot of similarities with the Mediterranean diet, like putting an emphasis on eating fresh, oily fish, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

But some folks are seeing a difference between the two as a green light to chow down on meat and potatoes... And those folks are missing the mark...

Despite what some of the headlines may have you believe, the Atlantic diet doesn't claim you can eat as much meat and potatoes as you want and still be healthy. Instead, it recommends people use meat sparingly to flavor their food and potatoes as an addition to vegetable soup. It also explains that eggs, dairy, and poultry should be eaten in smaller portions compared with the traditional Western diet.

And we're already seeing evidence that shows the Atlantic diet benefits your health...

A 14-year study, published in December 2023, showed that the Atlantic diet may lower your risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. And an older study from a group of Spanish and Portuguese researchers found that the diet lowers concentrations of certain markers of inflammation.

And the newest study, published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association­, found that the Atlantic diet can reduce metabolic syndrome...

Metabolic syndrome is the name of a group of risk factors which can lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease. In order to receive a metabolic syndrome diagnosis, a person will need to have three or more of these problems:

  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of triglycerides
  • Large waist circumference
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein ("HDL") cholesterol (the "good" kind)

The folks in the February 2024 study who maintained the Atlantic diet were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome after a six-month period.

So while the Atlantic diet might be healthy, lots of folks might not follow it the best way...

Longtime readers know I think it's perfectly fine to eat red meat, but too many people are getting their red-meat consumption from processed meats (think things like hot dogs) and cooking meat in a way that increases the risk of carcinogens...

The first culprit – nitrites. These are chemical preservatives used to keep meat from spoiling. Hot dogs, for example, contain a lot of nitrites. Nitrites also cause inflammation, which causes other problems like heart disease, arthritis, and high blood pressure. Nitrites also damage the lining in our intestines, which leads to DNA mutations... and cancer.

How you cook your meat also influences risk. Grilling meat produces two known carcinogens – heterocyclic amines ("HCAs") and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ("PAHs").

HCAs form from high-heat cooking. The five foods yielding the highest levels of HCAs (when prepared well done) are chicken breast, steak, pork, salmon, and hamburger.

PAHs come from the smoke. The cloud of smoke that rises when you open the top of your grill contains huge amounts of PAHs. They form when a piece of fat from your steak falls into the fire. Partially burned-up residue of fuel, like wood or gas, also contains PAHs. This residue sticks to the surface of food (and also adds flavor).

Both PAHs and HCAs damage the DNA in our cells. And damaged DNA sometimes creates cells that grow and divide uncontrollably... causing cancer.

When it comes to red meat, limit your intake of processed meats and be careful how you cook it.

As for the potato problem...

I call potatoes "white killers" because they cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar and trigger chronic inflammation. I've written many times before that inflammation is the root of heart disease.

Don't use this Atlantic diet as an excuse to eat potatoes every day. Limit your intake to once or twice a week tops.

I try to eat things like eggplant, squash, zucchini, spinach, and carrots all the time. If you're really craving potatoes, go for sweet potatoes or purple potatoes instead.

My final takeaway...

The Atlantic diet might be a good way for folks used to a standard American diet to ease into a healthier way of living. As I've pointed out, it emphasizes eating fresh, unprocessed foods. But the Mediterranean diet is still the top way of eating well and maximizing the health benefits from your food.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 5, 2024