The Nordic diet was developed in 2004 and is often compared to the Mediterranean diet. Also known as New Nordic Cuisine or the new Nordic Food Programme, the diet focuses on ten concepts that guide food choices and promote embracing a sustainable food philosophy. Designed for people in Scandinavian countries, the diet incorporates aspects of Scandinavian culture, including relaxed meals with friends and family, traditional Nordic ingredients, and eating foods that are in season. The diet is not designed for weight loss; rather, it’s about eating delicious, healthy food.
Nordic Diet Basics
The ten concepts of the Nordic diet guide the food decisions of those following its guidelines. They guide not just what to eat, but how to source and prepare food. The concepts are
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat more whole grains.
- Eat more foods from the seas and lakes.
- Eat high-quality meat, but choose less meat overall.
- Seek out food from wild landscapes.
- Use organic produce whenever possible.
- Avoid food additives.
- Base meals around seasonal produce.
- Eat more home-cooked food.
- Produce less waste.
Nordic Diet History
Despite its association with Scandinavian countries, the diet is not based on what a Viking would have eaten. It was developed by a team of nutritional scientists in conjunction with the chef and co-founder of world-renowned restaurant Noma. The group aimed to address growing obesity rates and unsustainable farming practices in Nordic countries. It also wanted to offer tasty, traditional food. In 2005, agricultural and food ministers from Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland gave their support to the program.
The emphasis on whole grains gives people following the Nordic diet plenty of fiber-rich complex carbohydrates to choose from. These foods are slower to digest, leading to feeling full for longer, which helps aid weight maintenance or loss. A high-fiber diet helps maintain bowel health, control blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol. Scientists have also linked high-fiber diets with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, including colorectal cancer.
Plentiful Vegetables and Fruits
The Nordic diet recommends eating more fruits and vegetables. Eating more vegetables has been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. As berries grow well in Nordic climates, they are a popular addition to the diet. These nutritional powerhouses are packed with antioxidants that aid in longevity and reduce inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are also full of fiber and aid weight loss.
The Nordic diet recommends eating more foods from lakes and oceans. The cold water of the region is full of fatty fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel, which can be eaten fresh or preserved traditionally by drying, fermenting, or smoking. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that keep the heart healthy and are linked to brain health and fetal development. The guidelines also recommend that people get less protein from meat and that they eat meat from high-quality, organic sources.
Choose Canola Oil
The diet recommends choosing canola oil for cooking rather than the olive oil favored in the Mediterranean diet. This is not a traditional Nordic food, but it is high in omega-3 fatty acids and relatively low in omega-6 fatty acids. Scientists believe canola is a heart-healthy oil choice, with studies linking it to reductions in bad LDL cholesterol and improved insulin sensitivity.
Eat Seasonally and Locally
The Nordic diet also recommends specific food-sourcing methods. It emphasizes local, seasonal foods and suggests using organic and wild foods whenever possible. These recommendations give the diet strong environmental credentials, as eating in this manner reduces waste and energy consumption and uses fewer natural resources, like fossil fuels. Although the links between organic foods and better health are inconclusive, less pollution invariably leads to improved wellness. Wild foods are also a healthy choice, as they do not contain additives, and scavenging for them encourages low-impact exercise.
What the Science Says
There are limited studies on the efficacy of the Nordic diet, although most studies support its health benefits. One study of obese men found that those following the diet lost more than 10 pounds, compared to the control group, who lost 3.3 pounds. However, a follow-up study found that most participants gained the weight back within 12 months. Despite this, all the foods included in the diet have accepted benefits that help reduce inflammation and support healthy living.
Drawbacks of the Diet
The main criticisms of the Nordic diet are related to how easy it is to follow. Many of the recommended foods, including fish, organic vegetables, and high-quality meat, are expensive, putting them out of the reach of some people. The diet can also be difficult to adhere to, especially when eating out, and people will not receive the full health benefits unless the changes become a permanent part of their lifestyle.
Concerns with Canola
Manufacturing canola oil creates trans fats, which is concerning to some people. Although the amount present is considered low, the World Health Organization seeks to eliminate trans fats. Recent independent animal studies suggest that canola oil can harm memory and may increase inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure. It is possible to substitute olive oil without significantly altering the benefits and prescriptions of the Nordic diet.