One of the newest diets on the health scene is the Nordic diet – which promises better health through eating ‘Nordic’ foods, such as those found in the traditional diets of people living in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
But can ‘eating like a viking’ match these impressive findings?
Let’s find out. Here’s all you need to know about the new Nordic diet.
What is the Nordic Diet?
Unlike most fad diets around, this one is more of a healthy eating plan. You won’t have to follow any strange food-combining rules, starve yourself by consuming liquids only, or swallow a tapeworm.
And, also unlike fad diets, you aren’t promised miraculous 24-hour results.
According to a 2012 paper included in the journal Food & Nutrition Research, a healthy Nordic diet should revolve around fatty fish, low-fat dairy, whole grain cereals like oats and barley, berries, root vegetables, rapeseed oil, nuts and legumes.
The diet also advocates that approximately 80% of foods consumed on the Nordic diet should be possible to grow in the Nordic countries, and organic wherever feasible.
Furthermore, low-temperature cooking methods, such as oven baking and boiling are mainly recommended to prepare meals.
The Health Benefits of the Nordic Diet
Health wise, the Nordic diet claims to benefit weight management, while also having an impact on cholesterol and blood pressure. Here’s what the science says about these things.
A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, investigated the diet’s effects on cholesterol.
Lasting for between 18 and 24 weeks, the study looked at individuals with features of metabolic syndrome.
Almost 170 people were monitored and, at the end, “significant changes between the groups were found in non-HDL cholesterol and LDL to HDL cholesterol” favoring the Nordic diet for lowering cholesterol levels.
However, other studies have found that the diet has little impact on cholesterol.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious condition that greatly increases the risk of heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.
Worryingly, in the US, one in three adults have elevated blood pressure levels.
Those following a Nordic diet may find it improves their numbers.
In a 26-week study, 147 obese patients, with a mean age of 42, were divided into two groups. The first were asked to follow a Nordic diet, and the others a standard Danish diet.
Researchers found that the Nordic diet led to a greater reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure figures, compared with those on the standard diet.
A smaller study, of just 37 subjects, showed similar findings. After 12 weeks, those on the Nordic diet enjoyed lower diastolic pressure levels.
One of the main benefits reported by proponents of the Nordic diet, is its ability to help people lose weight, or at least maintain a healthy weight.
Given that obesity rates in the Nordic countries are much lower than in the US, this sounds quite credible.
After all, according to OECD data, around 33% of US adults are obese, whereas in Norway that figure stands at just 10%. In Sweden it’s 11% and in Denmark 13%.
Studies prove this low weight isn’t just down to genetics.
In the study of 147 obese patients I mentioned above, those eating a Nordic diet lost 4.7 kg of body weight after the 26 weeks on the diet, while those in the control group lost just 1.5 kg.
A second study on body weight and the Nordic diet found that after just 6 weeks, participants experienced a 4% weight reduction over those in the control group.
Inflammation is believed to be the root cause of so many of today’s serious illnesses, from arthritis and allergies to cancer and heart disease.
Since an anti-inflammatory diet is based around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein sources, it’s not all that different from the Nordic diet, which means you would also expect the Nordic diet to fight inflammation, right?
Some studies show it does just that.
In a study of those with metabolic syndrome, following a Nordic diet for up to six months led to a reduction in bodily markers of inflammation.
According to a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when compared with a control diet, the Nordic diet has also been seen to reduce inflammatory gene expression in fatty tissue.
What Can You Eat?
So, now that you’ve seen some of the health benefits associated with following a Nordic diet, what exactly can you eat to reap these rewards?
Well, you’ll never go hungry and can choose from a variety of foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, vegetable fats and oils, fish and eggs.
I should point out that there is no calorie counting on this diet and it’s not limited to a specific time-period. It’s meant to be a lifelong approach to eating – just like it is for the Nordic folk.
This eating plan should also provide you with all the vitamins, minerals, nutrients and energy you need.
So without further ado, here’s a breakdown of your main sources of nutrition.
Fruits & Vegetables
Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which are a healthy option regardless of what diet you’re following.
The Nordic diet specifies berries as being especially healthy including blueberry, which we know is chock full of antioxidants and brings with it a host of health benefits.
Other fruits emphasized here include apple, pear and prune, all great high-fiber options.
For vegetables, you’ll be focusing on the ever healthy root variety such as onion, leek, turnip, carrot, parsnip, beetroot and potatoes, which should be mainly boiled and definitely not fried!
So healthy are these veggies that a review of research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that 70% or more of studies have found a link between cruciferous vegetables and a reduced cancer risk.
This incredibly healthy food, full of vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, iodine, zinc and other important nutrients, is pretty much a staple of Nordic countries. It’s even a regular feature at the breakfast table!
Herring, Baltic herring, mackerel, salmon and white fish can be enjoyed on this diet, with the American Heart Association strongly recommending we all consume fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice a week.
Meat & Poultry
Wild game meats such as venison or bison are to be eaten in moderation, with red meat and poultry to be eaten sparingly.
Of course, as with any healthy diet, processed meat is a definite no.
A huge study of almost 500,000 people across 10 European countries found that processed meat is linked to early death, particularly from heart disease.
Dairy & Eggs
Both eggs and low-fat dairy are permitted on the Nordic diet, when eaten in moderation. Try probiotic yogurt, which has a number of health benefits, low-fat milk and low-fat cheeses.
If you need to cut down on the amount of dairy you consume, but can’t do without a dash of milk in your coffee or oatmeal, check out some of my favorite alternative milks.
Nuts, Seeds and Legumes
These foods provide a whole lot of bang for your buck and play an important role in any healthy diet.
Legumes are great sources of plant-based protein so include a variety of lentils, beans, and yellow and green peas.
Rye, wheat, barley and oats are the main grains enjoyed by those on a typical Nordic diet.
Whole grains, which are low in sodium and high in fiber, are a heart-healthy food and may be behind some of this diet’s health benefits.
For example, research published in The Journal of Family Practice found that eating oatmeal regularly reduced patients’ systolic blood pressure by as much as 7.5 points and diastolic pressure by 5.5 points.
Fats & Oils
One of the differences between the Mediterranean and Nordic diets is that, where the Mediterranean diet focuses on olive oil, the Nordic diet’s oil of choice is rapeseed (canola).
According to a paper published in 2013, canola oil-based diets have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels when compared with those containing higher levels of saturated fatty acids.
Interestingly, rapeseed oil is high in oleic acid – the very acid that is behind a lot of olive oil’s health benefits.
Herbs & Spices
Many herbs and spices are incredibly healthy – they can reduce inflammation and are loaded with antioxidants.
While the Nordic diet focuses on simple, whole foods, you’re not expected to eat bland meals day-in and day-out.
Fill them with flavor by using Nordic-inspired seasonings such as parsley, mustard, horseradish, chive, thyme, cardamom, juniper berries and fennel.
For a truly Nordic flavor focus on dill – the ‘garlic of the North’, used in everything from pickled fish to chips.
These spices should take the place of salt in your diet, especially if you want to look after your heart and waistline.
It also increased life expectancy by between 6 and 7 years for both genders.
Your main beverage of choice should be water – something your body needs plenty of. For a bit of variety, teas and coffee are fine to enjoy occasionally.
Alcohol should be enjoyed sparingly, if at all.
What You Can’t Eat
As you can see, there is an abundance of foods to be enjoyed on this diet. However, there are a few things that this diet doesn’t advocate.
- Trans fats (including processed vegetable oils)
- Fast foods
- Processed foods
- Food additives
Nothing too surprising in that list, is there?
Sample Nordic Diet Meal Plan
You may be wondering what a day on this regimen would look like. This one day meal plan should give you an idea.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Flaxseeds and Blueberries
Lunch: Creamy Pearl Barley with Mushrooms, Pickled Onions and Grated Cheese
Dinner: Baked Cod with Celery Remoulade and Hot Potato Salad
Dessert: Rhubarbs with Merengue
Snacks can include fresh fruit, raw vegetables, nuts and seeds or low-fat yogurt
Because the Nordic diet is so new on the scene, even though it has been traditionally enjoyed by the people living in these countries for centuries, studies on its health claims are limited.
It’s too soon to tell if it lives up to the hype, and can rival the Mediterranean diet in terms of benefits.
But, thanks to its emphasis on whole foods like grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables and lean protein, it’s naturally a healthier choice than the standard American diet,
Cutting out junk food is always a smart move.
Clearly, it’s not a miracle cure for obesity or heart disease – it’s the same as any other well-balanced nutritious diet, it just happens to have an impressive sounding name.
Share your thoughts on the Nordic diet with me! Have you tried it out?