Year after year, when experts rank the healthiest eating patterns for the general population to follow, the Mediterranean diet often comes out on top. Now, a new diet called the Southern European Atlantic Diet (SEAD) is proving to be just as beneficial for overall health, even though it includes certain foods that we’re commonly told to avoid.
SEAD is the traditional diet of Northern Portugal and Northwestern Spain, where red meat and pork are eaten somewhat regularly. New research suggests that even though SEAD includes more animal products than a traditional Mediterranean diet, it can be just as protective against heart disease and even early death.
Study Findings: Benefits of Southern European Atlantic Diet
As part of a 2021 study published in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers from Spain studied the association between the Southern European Atlantic Diet and all-cause mortality (death) in Spanish adults.
Data for the study was taken from the Seniors-ENRICA-1 cohort, which included 3,165 adults over the age of 60 who were living in Spain at the time of the study (starting in 2008).
All participants recorded their diets over the course of several years. Foods were grouped into nine categories:
- fresh fish
- red meat and pork products
- dairy products
- legumes and vegetables
- vegetable soup
- whole-grain bread
Researchers found that higher adherence to the SEAD was associated with lower levels of some cardiovascular risk factors, reduced risk for myocardial infarction (blockage of blood flow to the heart) and lower all-cause mortality.
Past studies also suggest that eating the SEAD can help promote healthier gut microbiota (tiny microorganisms living in the gut that have many functions for immune support and more) and can lower levels of inflammatory markers and several cardiovascular risk factors.
Based on available research, it’s thought that SEAD may help decrease:
- C-reactive protein levels (a sign of inflammation)
- Total cholesterol and triglycerides
- Risk for suffering from a heart attack
- Insulin resistance
- Blood pressure
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Waist circumference
Overall, the SEAD was shown to be protective against common chronic disease risk factors to a similar magnitude as both the Mediterranean diet and Alternative Healthy Eating Index, which includes nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Why is the Southern European Atlantic Diet good for health?
It’s believed that the SEAD is correlated with better health outcomes, especially among older adults, because this eating pattern is associated with:
- Higher intake of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
- Decreased saturated fat intake
- Increased omega-3 fatty acid intake
- Increased protein intake
- Increased fiber intake
- Low intake of added sugar and sodium
- Avoidance of excess alcohol consumption/binge drinking
Aside from eating a healthy diet, people living in the Southern European Atlantic region also benefit from a good amount of physical activity and strong social networks that can help reduce stress. Eating home-cooked foods that are grown locally, socializing often, getting sunshine exposure year-round and staying physically fit are other ways that these populations seem to ward off diseases throughout older age.
How to Follow It
The SEAD is overall similar to the Mediterranean diet, however there are some differences. Staple foods of the SEAD include:
- Fish (especially cod)
- Red meat
- Pork products
- Whole grains, including whole grain bread
- Olive oil
Here are some more tips for following the Southern European Atlantic Diet:
- Aim for four or five servings a day of different vegetables, especially those that are seasonal and locally grown. Veggies are great source of disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, electrolytes and fiber.
- Eat potatoes that are steamed, broiled or roasted but not fried. These provide fiber, potassium and other nutrients.
- Avoid refined grains and white grain products, but incline whole grains in your meals, such as farro, brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. Whole grains are high in fiber, provide essential minerals, and are associated with a lower risk of diabetes, insulin resistance and heart disease.
- Eat plant proteins, such as nuts, legumes and seeds. These are good sources of prebiotics that aid in gut/digestive health and are also inexpensive and versatile.
- Consume fish several times per week, especially sustainable fish like sardines, anchovies and wild-caught salmon. Fish and seafood provide healthy fatty acids plus protein, which may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, neurological issues and other conditions.
- While small amounts of red meat and pork are included in the SEAD, most studies demonstrate that they don’t seem to be as health-promoting as fish and plant proteins. Eat these meats in moderation, and opt for grass-fed meats over processed/cured meats.
- Make water your beverage of choice, but also enjoy coffee, teas, herbal tea, seltzer and fresh pressed juice. Avoid soda, commercial juices and sugary beverages.
- Wine can be enjoyed in moderation, but stick to one to two glasses per day at most.
People living in Portugal and Spain who follow SEAD often eat some combination of vegetables, potatoes (typically in veggie soup), and either fish or meat. Whole grains, cheeses and wine are also included with many meals, especially dinners.
Here are some ideas for using foods from the Southern European Atlantic Diet to make healthy meals at home:
- Fish Taco Recipe
- Cheesy Potatoes Au Gratin With Squash and Zucchini
- Tuna Pasta Salad with Olives and Tomatoes
- Tuscan White Bean Soup
- Findings from a 2021 study and previous studies show that following the Southern European Atlantic Diet is associated with similar health effects as the Mediterranean diet, mainly that it decreases the risk for early death and heart disease.
- The SEAD includes foods such as vegetables, non-fried potatoes, fish, dairy, wine, whole grains, olive oil, and some red meat and pork.
- Because it provides a high amount of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and protein, but little added sugar or sodium, this eating pattern seems to be protective against chronic diseases. Previous research shows it can help promote gut health, lower levels of inflammation, prevent insulin resistance and contribute to a healthy BMI/weight.