When thinking about regional specific diet plans, the first one that may come to mind is the Mediterranean Diet; rich in olive oil, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. The Mediterranean Diet has been touted as one of the best diets for heart health (1). However, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t the only regional specific diet plan that provides significant health benefit – there are also impressive advantages from the Nordic Diet plan.
Starting in the 1960s researchers from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland collaborated on nutrition research and began making collective recommendations for the Nordic Region in the 1980s (2). In 2004 a new (and even healthier) version of the Nordic dietary recommendations emerged. The researchers believed they had ample evidence-based data to support the claim that a traditional Nordic diet was just as healthful as a Mediterranean diet (3).
The basis of the Nordic Diet is simple and affordable, highlighting seasonality and local ingredients, avoidance of food additives and reducing waste. The Nordic Diet can help to reduce cholesterol, and harmful inflammation. Ultimately, this diet plan can help maintain your heart health and reduce your risk for developing chronic diseases.
What do you need to know for the Nordic diet? Let’s start out with what you need to eat!
Whole grains, making up 25% of the recommended daily intake. A whole grain is a grain that is minimally processed and has the bran, germ, and endosperm intake. Whole grains usually have more naturally occurring fiber compared to refined grains. For the Nordic diet you will want to select from whole grains like rye, barley, and oats. Enjoy plenty of locally sourced vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy green vegetables, legumes, and root vegetables such as carrots and beets.
Visit your Farmer’s Market, or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group to have easy access to local and fresh produce. Visit http://www.usdalocalfooddirectories.com/ to find the options that are closest for you. Consume abundant locally sourced fruits including apples, pears, plums and berries, including strawberries, black currants, and blueberries. Berries are consumed frequently on the Nordic diet – at least 2 cups per day – which is one of the ways the diet has an anti-inflammatory benefit.
Cook and season with rapeseed oil (also known as canola oil). While the Mediterranean diet focuses on olive oil, one of the pillars of the Nordic Diet is heart-healthy canola oil (4). Canola oil has less saturated fat than other oils and is truly one of the best oils for heart health (5). And, unlike olive oil, canola oil has a high smoke point and is ideal to be used in cooking.
Dairy products are also recommended, and the focus is on low-fat or fat free. Dairy products are recommended at least 2 times per day. Select from low fat milk, yogurt, or cheese – all plain. (The Nordic diet does not allow for added sugars). Fish is another focus on the diet, and is consumed in more than 3 meals per week. Enjoy a wide variety of types of fatty and non-fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, herring, flounder and cod (6).
The meat consumed must be low fat. The Nordic diet recommends white cuts of poultry, lamb, and venison (7). Last, but certainly not least, are nuts. The Nordic diet includes nuts that are unsalted.
What should you avoid if you are following a Nordic Diet plan?
– No sugar-sweetened drinks or added sugars. The Nordic diet allows for the occasional glass of juice, but otherwise stick with beverages like water, milk, coffee and tea.
– Hard animal fat and milk fat are replaced by rapeseed oil (canola oil) and plant oil based margarine.
– Red meat and sausages should be eaten in moderation.
– Highly processed foods; Fast-food, packaged foods.
The Benefits of the Nordic Diet
Compared with an average Western diet, the Nordic diet contains less sugar, less fat, twice the fiber, and twice the fish. The Nordic diet may not help you to lose weight, but it has been proven to help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and chronic inflammation (8). The Nordic Diet focuses on foods with protein and fiber, both of which are necessary for keeping you full from meal to meal. Eating more local foods, you will generally experience foods at their peak in freshness and flavor (4).
Considerations for the Nordic Diet
The first step is to find and to purchase local food and ingredients. It may be challenging to switch to this buying method, and you will not have the selection of items that a traditional supermarket would carry. Even if you cannot follow the Nordic diet explicitly, you can still incorporate the diet’s basic components and follow its general philosophy, which is to prepare simple meals using local foods.
When you get home from a long day, and are tired, it’s easy to resort to highly processed quick meals. With the Nordic diet you will need to plan in advance, as there is no reliance on processed or fast foods. The Nordic diet is a well-balanced plan that can help to reduce your risk for chronic disease. Visit the following link for ideas on how to create traditional Nordic fare.