Fish, Wine, and Fruit

Atlantic Diet Study: Benefits from More Than Just a Diet

“Is the Atlantic diet the new Mediterranean miracle?” This headline (and a host of others like it) says a lot about the ultra-processing of nutrition research by consumer media. It takes a fascinating study about the health effects of a traditional pattern for eating called the Atlantic diet and removes all the nuance. The product is clickbait that taps into magical diet thinking.

But in fact, this research, published in JAMA Network Open, deserves deeper consideration.

More Than a Diet

GALIAT Study Visual AbstractThis is the latest analysis from the ambitious GALIAT cluster randomized study of the Atlantic diet. Cristina Cambeses-Franco and colleagues conducted it at a local primary health care center in the rural town of A Estrada in northwestern Spain.

Researchers randomized 250 families to receive extensive support for following a traditional Atlantic diet or to simply continue with their habitual lifestyle. The intervention group got educational sessions, cooking classes, supportive written materials like recipes, and deliveries of free foods that characterize the Atlantic diet.  The control group got none of this – only follow-up visits to assess their outcomes at three and six months.

This was thus a study of an intensive intervention to support a healthy, traditional pattern of eating local, fresh, and minimally processed seasonal foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, fish, seafood, and olive oil. The comparison is to a control group that was in the habit of consuming more calories and fat with less protein and fiber than families in the intervention group were consuming at the end of the study. Folks in the control group kept on eating whatever was convenient.

In short, the intervention group received extensive support for healthy eating. The control group got nothing.

Better Medical Outcomes

At the end of this six-month study, the metabolic health of the intervention group was better. New cases of metabolic syndrome were cut by more than half. Lipid profiles improved and the risk of central adiposity went down because people in the intervention group lost a modest amount of weight.

Though the authors of this study say much about “positive outcomes” for “carbon footprint emissions,” we have a hard time reconciling this with the actual results they report:

“The intervention group did not have a significantly reduced environmental impact in terms of carbon footprint emissions compared with the control group.”

Food as Medicine?

Right now, food as medicine is a hot topic and this study, if carefully interpreted, might offer some useful insight. In a context where people receive all the support they need for a healthful diet, this study suggests it can have real benefits for metabolic health.

But keep this in mind: all that support for healthy eating might be equally or even more important than merely recommending a better diet.

Click here for the study, here, here, and here for further perspective.

Fish, Wine, and Fruit; painting by Konstantin Korovin / WikiArt

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February 22, 2024