The Nordic countries include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Greenland. The “Nordic diet” is based on their traditional ways of eating. Like the more famous Mediterranean diet, it’s not really about weight loss. Instead, it's a delicious way to eat healthy. So, what foods does it include?
What Can You Eat?
This style of eating is based on these guidelines:
More fruits, vegetables, and seasonal and organic foods when possible
More whole grains
More food from seas, lakes, and the wild
Higher-quality meat and less of it
Less processed, less sugary foods
Cook at home more
Think whole-grain crackers from Sweden or the dark, dense sourdough rye bread from Denmark called rugbrod. Or you can also choose any other high-quality “complex” carbohydrates that are rich in fiber. They take longer to digest than the “simple” carbs found in many processed foods like white bread, pastries, and candy bars. They also have lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help protect your cells.
They’re a big part of the Nordic way of eating. That’s a good thing because when you eat lots of them, you’re less likely to gain weight. They’re also a good source of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which seem to keep your veins and arteries healthy and flexible, and may help lower your blood pressure.
You might know that the Mediterranean and DASH diets include olive oil. The Nordic diet generally uses canola oil instead. Like olive oil, it’s low in saturated fat and higher in healthy monounsaturated fat. Also, it has alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 that may help protect your brain, including from stroke.
They have certain omega-3 fatty acids that your body can’t make. These could lower your chance of having heart rhythm problems, lessen plaque buildup in your arteries, and cut down on fat in your blood (triglycerides). You might know about salmon, sardines, and albacore tuna. Nordic cultures like herring and mackerel too, which they cook, but also dry, pickle, and ferment. Shoot for two to three servings a week.
Beans and Peas
The Nordic diet recommends them as one of the major sources of complex carbs and fiber in your daily diet, along with whole grains, berries, and vegetables. They’re a great source of protein, especially to replace some of the calories you get from red meat. And they have lots of nutrients like riboflavin, B6, calcium, zinc, and iron.
Root Vegetables And Tubers
Carrots, parsnips, beets, and potatoes are typical. Though they can be high in calories, they also give you fiber, which takes longer to digest and keeps your blood sugar more stable. And they’re loaded with nutrients that help protect your cells, lower your cholesterol, and help fight infection.
Nuts and Seeds
They’re a source of complex carbs and fiber, as are whole grains, berries, and vegetables. They’re rich in zinc, copper, potassium, vitamin E, niacin, antioxidants, and mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (MUFAs and PUFAs).
This way of eating may help lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in people who start out with higher than normal LDL levels. And it may work even for people who don’t lose weight on the diet. You should get a cholesterol blood test every 4 to 6 years -- more often if you have heart health problems.
When people shift to this way of eating, they tend to lose weight, especially the fat you carry around your waist. That’s better for you than losing it from elsewhere on your body. And if you follow this plan, it may help you keep those pounds off. People in Denmark were more likely to stick with the diet and said they were more satisfied, compared with those who didn’t change their eating habits.
Unhealthy cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, and insulin levels are all “risk factors” for heart disease -- that is, they make you more likely to get it. Because the Nordic diet seems to improve these issues in many people, scientists think this way of eating might help support heart health, too.
Type 2 Diabetes
As with heart disease, this approach helps ease some of the issues linked to type 2 diabetes, like inflammation and obesity. That’s why many doctors figure it probably helps prevent the disease over the long term. Still, they need to do much more research to know for sure.
It means the swelling of tissues all over your body, and it’s linked to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure that can lessen the quality and length of your life. A healthy Nordic-style diet seems to be a good way to keep it away. Of course, diet is not the only cause. It’s important to get regular exercise and sleep well, too.
It’s Green, Too!
One of the main goals of the Nordic diet is to be environmentally friendly. So while it’s good for your health to eat a diet that’s more plant-based than animal-based, it’s also good for the planet. That’s because plant-based foods are less taxing on the land, the climate, and the atmosphere. So you can make yourself healthy and do something for the Earth while you’re at it.
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American Academy of Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online: “Triglycerides.”
American Heart Association: “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Health effect of the New Nordic Diet in adults with increased waist circumference: a 6-mo randomized controlled trial.”
Annals of Medicine: “Associations of the Baltic Sea diet with obesity-related markers of inflammation.”
British Journal of Nutrition: “Adherence to the Baltic Sea diet consumed in the Nordic countries is associated with lower abdominal obesity.”
BioMed Research International: “Alpha-Linolenic Acid: An Omega-3 Fatty Acid with Neuroprotective Properties—Ready for Use in the Stroke Clinic?”
Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice: “The healthy Nordic diet and incidence of Type 2 Diabetes — 10-year follow-up.”
European Journal of Nutrition: “Long-term adherence to the New Nordic Diet and the effects on body weight, anthropometry and blood pressure: a 12-month follow-up study.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “The Nordic diet: Healthy eating with an eco-friendly bent.”
International Journal of Food Science: “Roots and Tuber Crops as Functional Foods: A Review on Phytochemical Constituents and Their Potential Health Benefits.”
JAMA: “Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health. Evaluating the Risks and the Benefits.”
Journal of Ethnic Foods: “Fermented and ripened fish products in the northern European countries.”
Journal of Inflammation: “Effects of exercise on brain and peripheral inflammatory biomarkers induced by total sleep deprivation in rats.”
Journal of Internal Medicine: “Effects of an isocaloric healthy Nordic diet on insulin sensitivity, lipid profile and inflammation markers in metabolic syndrome – a randomized study (SYSDIET),” “Effects of a healthy Nordic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolaemic subjects: a randomized controlled trial (NORDIET).”
Nordic Council of Ministers: “Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012,” “The New Nordic Food Manifesto.”
Pennington Biomedical Research Center (LSU): “Anthocyanins.”
University of California Berkley Wellness: “Roots and Tubers: Nature’s Buried Treasures.”
University of Copenhagen: “Report: Basis of the New Nordic Diet.”
World Health Organization: “What national and subnational interventions and policies based on Mediterranean and Nordic diets are recommended or implemented in the WHO European Region, and is there evidence of effectiveness in reducing noncommunicable diseases?”