What is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic Diet: a northern response the the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

I’ve always been interested in regional diets (well, since high school, anyway). Not only do the traditional ones tend to have health benefits, but they show that humans can flourish on a multitude of foods. This is part of why the Mediterranean diet has always appealed to me (from both the eating and research points of view). So, imagine my interest when information about the Nordic diet (or New Nordic Diet) started popping up in my news feeds.

What’s It All About?

With all the buzz about this diet, there paradoxically wasn’t much I could find. Most of the short form articles were just a few paragraphs about how the Mediterranean diet had some competition now and included what they called a manifesto of the new diet. See, the diet was created by a committee of experts on topics ranging from food history to food economics to human nutrition. They created a short, ten point framework for the New Nordic Diet.

  1. More fruit and vegetables every day (lots more: berries, cabbages, root vegetables, legumes, potatoes and herbs)
  2. More whole grain, especially oats, rye and barley
  3. More food from the seas and lakes
  4. Higher-quality meat, but less of it
  5. More food from wild landscapes
  6. Organic produce whenever possible
  7. Avoid food additives
  8. More meals based on seasonal produce
  9. More home-cooked food
  10. Less waste

Remember me going on about food-based guidelines and why they are good? Well, here is one and I really can’t see any issues with it. Really, what is not to like about more seasonal fruits and vegetables, omega-3 filled fish, unprocessed homemade food, and choosing quality meat over quantity? But, as lovely as this sounds in theory, are there any health benefits?

Some Berries a Day Keep the Doctor Away

Why, yes, yes there are. In one randomized trial, over the course of six months, people following the Nordic diet lost on average 4.74 ± 0.48 kilograms (for those of us who don’t think in metric, that’s 10.45 ± 1.06 pounds) compared to the control group’s 1.52 ± 0.45 kilograms (or 3.35 ± .99 pounds). This weight loss was accompanied by other improvements in health markers, like decreased waist circumference and body fat mass. Additionally, fasting glucose levels improved and so did cardiovascular measures [1].

In another (observational) study, following the Nordic Diet was associated with lower mortality among Danish people. In the discussion of their findings, the authors brought up a very interesting idea: that indexes of healthy popular or well-known foods within a culture make it easier to follow a healthy diet [2]. For instance, while we know that the southern European Mediterranean diet is linked to improved health, it may be difficult for Northern Europeans to choose less familiar foods like olive oil and tomatoes. When traditional or familiar food patterns are shown to be healthy, they may be more accessible than foreign  ones, leading to more people adopting healthy options.

While I enjoy a more or less Mediterranean climate and those foods are common around here, I can imagine that they might not be in other places. I love the suggestion the authors make for other researchers to focus on foods specific to the culture they live in–or even just foods that are more familiar. The attention that the Nordic diet is getting seems to me to be a step in the right direction–toward food culture and more local eating, which is ultimately what those ten points suggest.

What do you think about the Nordic diet? Share in the comments!


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