The Nordic Diet

Everything You Need to Know About the Nordic Diet

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The Nordic Diet

If someone mentions the Mediterranean diet, we all know what they’re talking about.

The Mediterranean diet has been held on a pedestal by nutritionists for years as one of the healthiest dietary lifestyle choices a person can make. This healthy-fat diet has been shown to boost brain power, fuel your metabolism and lower some disease risks.

The best thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it is not another fad diet. This pattern of eating has been adapted from the traditional diets of Mediterranean countries.

There is an emphasis on whole foods and home-cooked meals. Meanwhile, sugary and processed foods are limited. These are hallmarks of a conventional ‘healthy’ diet.
 

Is the Nordic Diet Better?

Recently, another lifestyle has been making a name for itself on the health and diet scene: the Nordic Diet.

The Nordic Diet is based on the produce and culinary traditions of Scandinavian countries. When we look at population studies, this is a region with better health than many other English-speaking countries.

Nordic countries are generally considered to include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The traditional diet in these countries has always been rich in fish, root vegetables, berries, herbs and whole grains.

Nutritionists are already touting this lifestyle with a heavy-hand, backed by endorsement by the World Health Organisation (WHO). So, what makes it so special – and is the hype justified?

What Is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic region is known for its progressive, wellness-oriented lifestyle and, not-so-coincidently, some outstanding athletes too.

Scandinavians are also consistently rated as amongst the happiest people. Their philosophy of “hygge” involves the adoption of a sense of contentment, and “lagom” refers to doing things in just the right amount – living without excess or limitation.

These concepts have made their way into the UK and US over the past few years through books and research papers. The Nordic diet is looking to capitalize on the Scandinavian lifestyle’s popularity and cult status.

The Nordic diet was formally created in 2004 by a group of nutritionists and nutritional science experts. The aim of the diet was to address growing obesity rates and the unsustainable farming practices that they rely upon.

Compared to the average Westerners diet, the Nordic option contains less sugar, less saturated fats, twice the fiber and twice the seafood.

The Nordic diet and the Mediterranean diet share a few similarities. Both diets include plenty of vegetables and fruit. They also place an emphasis on whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses. They preferentially promote seafood over meat, encourage home cooked meals, and limit the intake of sugary and processed foods.

One of the most notable differences between with two lifestyles is the go-to cooking oil. Olive oil is the Mediterranean oil of choice, but canola oil dominates in Nordic cuisine.

Both olive and canola oil provide health-protective monounsaturated fats that are widely deemed by experts to be incredibly beneficial. However, canola oil contains less PUFAs – something that makes them notably different from Olive oil.

Canola oil (otherwise known as grapeseed oil) has been shown to help reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and improve heart health. Rates of heart disease and stroke are both lower in populations with greater consumption of canola oil.

When the impacts of canola oil are compared to those of olive oil, it is “possible the canola oil may be better at reducing bad cholesterol and improving heart health”.

The forward thinking of the Norse people that shines through in all their wellbeing philosophies is extended into the thinking behind their diets. The Nordic diet isn’t just a matter of changing your food choices, but also your entire relationship with food. It’s a totally new perspective on food and health.

Taking on a Nordic diet includes several important dietary changes:

  • eating organic produce wherever possible
  • choosing more seasonal produce
  • eating more wild foods
  • choosing higher-quality meat (but less of it)
  • avoiding food additives
  • promoting animal well-being, and
  • generating less waste.

The Nordic diet is clearly aimed at creating a more holistic approach to health than we’ve seen with Atkins’ or Fasting diets. They’re based on key values of health, performance, and sustainability that we just don’t see in Traditional Western diets. If anything, the Nordic diet is more akin to a traditional Japanese diet than their European neighbors.

This diet is much more than just cutting back on calories!

How to Eat a Nordic Diet[1]

  • Pick your veg first
  • Get to know what’s in season
  • Shop local and/or organic
  • Incorporate more seafood and make sustainable choices (i.e. be more creative than cod). Seafood is packed full of protein and healthy Omega-3 fats that are highly beneficial for heart health[2]. Select less conventional foods: sustainably-sourced fish and crustaceans.
  • Less meat (and go for the grass-fed option)
  • Replace refined grain with whole grains. The easiest way of doing this is to swap out any white carbs you currently buy (bread, pasta, rice) with their brown or whole-grain alternatives. You could also try Nordic style crackers. These are excellent when topped with mashed avocado or low-sugar nut butters.
  • Eat nut or seeds daily. Nuts and seeds are surprisingly easy to sneak into your daily diet. Add them to oatmeal, salads, or sprinkle onto cooked veggies. Alternatively, you can snack on pumpkin seeds and walnuts, with a bit of extra dried fruit as a treat.
  • Include at least one serving of pulses daily. Pulses include beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas and are highly beneficial when added to your diet. These plant-based proteins can be used to make hearty meals like veggie curries and chilies. Or used to replace your whole grains (e.g. lentils instead of brown rice).
  • Learn what ‘processed’ means – and cut it out!
  • Embrace fermented foods (and other natural preservation methods)
  • Cook at home. Cooking at home more often – even if you still use “shortcuts” like frozen veggies or canned pulses – can vastly improve the nutritional content of your food. When you eat at home, you know exactly what you’re putting into your body!

The Benefits of Eating Norse

Weight loss

One of the major reasons many of us chose to make dietary changes is to see a shift in our appearance.

Losing weight is more than just looking good in a swimsuit though. Weight loss can boost levels of happiness and self-esteem, as well as have dramatic impacts on the health of your body and internal organs too![3]

Cutting out processed foods and focusing on eating an all-natural Nordic inspired diet will have you feeling energized and seeing changes in your body shape within as little as 2 weeks.

Of course, healthy eating goes far beyond weight loss.

Adopting a Nordic approach to your diet can also lead to significant improvements in your metabolic health and lower your risk of developing all sorts of chronic diseases.

There are several studies that have been carried out to examine the effects of the Nordic diet on several health markers[4]. These markers include…

Blood pressure

Studies have successfully demonstrated that a Nordic diet is able to facilitate a measurable reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Eating the Nordic diet means eating a diet that is high in many heart-healthy foods.
In a 6-month study carried out using individuals classified as ‘medically obese’, systolic and diastolic blood pressure were seen to fall by 5.1 and 3.2mmHg, respectively[3,5].

Blood Sugar Control

Some reduction in blood sugar has been observed as a result of study participants eating a Nordic diet.

Although the Nordic diet is not one of the most effective measures to take to lower blood sugar levels, the lack of processed food and sugars means that you are less likely to develop metabolic syndromes – such as diabetes – that are commonly seen in the modern-day population.

Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is known to be a major driver of many serious diseases. The reduction of tissue inflammation due to the adoption of a healthy Nordic inspired diet, therefore, can be highly beneficial.

Many studies have been carried out that look into the relationship between the Nordic diet and inflammation. These studies have produced mixed results.

It has been seen that the diet can have a positive correlation with the reduction of the inflammatory marker CRP.

Other studies have found that the Nordic diet reduced the expression of genes that related to inflammation in the fatty tissues of the body.

The Environmental Aspect of the Nordic Diet

Yes, another perk of the Nordic diet is that it’s good for Mother Nature too!

Eating a more heavily plant-based diet is better for the environment due to the reduced number of natural resources that are used (and damaged) to produce your food. Plant-based diets utilize far less land and water, contribute less deforestation and create far less greenhouse gas emissions[6,7].
 

The Bottom Line

There is nothing magical about “Nordic” foods, or “eating like a Viking”. The diet works because it replaces processed foods with whole, single-ingredient foods.

This is a simple principle: don’t eat things in brightly-colored packaging with TV mascots.

Any diet that emphasizes high-quality food behaviors will have similar effects. What we suggest is picking a diet that you’re likely to stick with – that is the only secret to weight loss and improved health.

Bibliography
[1] Mithril, Charlotte, et al. “Guidelines for the new Nordic diet.” Public health nutrition 15.10 (2012): 1941-1947.

[2] Adamsson, Viola, et al. “Effects of a healthy Nordic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolaemic subjects: a randomized controlled trial (NORDIET).” Journal of internal medicine 269.2 (2011): 150-159.

[3] Poulsen, Sanne K., et al. “Health effect of the New Nordic Diet in adults with increased waist circumference: a 6-mo randomized controlled trial–.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 99.1 (2013): 35-45.

[4] Olsen, Anja, et al. “Healthy Aspects of the Nordic Diet Are Related to Lower Total Mortality, 2.” The Journal of nutrition141.4 (2011): 639-644.

[5] Brader, L., et al. “Effects of an isocaloric healthy Nordic diet on ambulatory blood pressure in metabolic syndrome: a randomized SYSDIET sub-study.” European journal of clinical nutrition 68.1 (2014): 57.

[6] Saxe, Henrik, Thomas Meinert Larsen, and Lisbeth Mogensen. “The global warming potential of two healthy Nordic diets compared with the average Danish diet.” Climatic Change 116.2 (2013): 249-262.

[7] Saxe, Henrik. “The New Nordic Diet is an effective tool in environmental protection: it reduces the associated socioeconomic cost of diets–.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 99.5 (2014): 1117-1125.


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About the Author Emily Robinson

Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children.

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