The Nordic diet, is an eating style that focuses on local, seasonal and nutritious foods sourced in the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

The New Nordic Diet, a gastronomic interpretation of the Nordic diet, was developed in 2004 by a panel of food professionals and chefs who sought to define a new regional cuisine that would help to address growing obesity rates and unsustainable farming practices. (1) The diet is based upon four core principles: health, gastronomic potential, sustainability, and Nordic identity. (2)

The diet has been adapted from The Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid (13), created by the Finnish Heart Association, the Finnish Diabetes Association and the University of Eastern Finland. (3)

Nordic diet foods

The diet highlights the traditional aspects of Scandinavian culture. It calls for a lifestyle that embraces a return to relaxed meals with friends and family, centered around locally-sourced seasonal food. (1)

Staple foods of the Nordic diet include:

  • Berries and other fruits
  • Canola oil
  • Fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and trout
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Pulses, including beans, lentils, and peas
  • Vegetables including cabbage and root vegetables like carrots and potatoes
  • Whole grains such as barley, oats, and rye

Foods to eat in moderation:

  • Dairy products including cheese, milk, and yogurt
  • Game meats including low-fat elk
  • Eggs

Foods to limit include:

  • Added sugars and food additives
  • Highly processed foods
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meats and animal fats

From the list of foods above, you can see that the Nordic diet shares many elements with the Mediterranean diet. But how does the Nordic diet differ from the Mediterranean diet?

canola oil in a glass dish with canola plant next to it

Unlike olive oil promoted on the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet is rich in canola oil.

Nordic diet vs. the Mediterranean diet

The Nordic diet is actually quite similar to the Mediterranean diet. Both diets encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole (rather than refined) grains, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and pulses. They also include moderate amounts of eggs and small amounts of dairy, but limit sugars and processed foods as well as red meat.

There is one key difference between the diets. While the Mediterranean diet is known for its focus on olive oil, the Nordic diet promotes the consumption of canola oil.

Like olive oil, canola oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. These fats help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and help control blood glucose (sugar). (4) But canola oil also contains some alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, similar to the omega-3 found in fatty fish. (14) Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease (5) and arthritis.(6) They may also be important for brain health and development, as well as healthy growth and development. (7)(8)

Health benefits of the Nordic diet

The Nordic diet gets high praise for its healthfulness! It is associated with significant improvements in metabolic health and a lower risk of many chronic diseases. Several studies have looked at the effects of the Nordic diet on health.

Weight loss

In a study of 147 obese men and women, participants were randomly assigned to receive either the Nordic diet or an average Danish diet for 26 weeks. Participants were instructed not to purposefully restrict calories.

Individuals following the Nordic diet lost 10.4 pounds (4.7 kg), while those following a typical Danish diet only lost 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg). (9)

Type 2 diabetes

The Nordic food index contains six foods (apples and pears, cabbage, fish, oatmeal, root vegetables, and rye bread), and was used to obtain data on adherence to a Nordic diet eating pattern.

Adherence, measured on a scale from 0-6 was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Strict adherence (a score of 5-6) conferred a reduced risk of 25% for women and 38% for men compared with poor adherence (a score of 0 points). (10)

Blood pressure

In the same 26 week study investigating the effects of a Nordic diet compared to a standard Danish diet on weight loss, researchers found that the Nordic diet reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.1 mmHg and 3.2 mmHg, respectively. (9)

Lipid profiles

To investigate the effects of the Nordic diet on lipid profiles, 169 individuals completed an 18-24 week intervention where they were placed on either a Nordic diet (“healthy diet) or a control diet (“the average Nordic diet”).

Participants following a Nordic diet had a mild reduction in non-HDL cholesterol, as well as the LDL/HDL and Apo B/Apo A1 ratios – all of which are strong risk factors for heart disease. (11)

Bring the Nordic diet home

If you’re looking to incorporate the Nordic diet into your life, here are 10 guidelines to get you started. (12)

  1. Eat more fruit and vegetables every day. You can do this by adding veggies to an omelet, adding some berries to overnight oats or snacking on some veggies and hummus.
  2. Eat more whole grain produce. Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice.
  3. Eat more food from the seas and lakes. Try and incorporate a source of fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, trout) into your meals at least 2 days of the week, and make them sustainable choices.
  4. Eat higher-quality meat, and less of it. When you do eat it, opt for grass-fed, organic meat.
  5. Eat more food from wild landscapes and less processed foods.
  6. Eat organic produce whenever possible. Certified organic food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, must be produced without the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage-based fertilizers, herbicides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones or irradiation.
  7. Avoid food additives. Buy foods that are found around the outer edges of the grocery stores. These foods are usually fresh and unpackaged whole foods that don’t contain any additives.
  8. Eat more meals based on seasonal produce. Find what’s in season near you. (15)
  9. Eat more home-cooked food. Even if this means that you have to use some “shortcuts” such as frozen vegetables or canned pulses.
  10. Produce less waste. Consider using a reusable produce bag next time you’re at the grocery store, or use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from your local coffee shop.
bowl full of a variety of vegetables, whole grains, and pulses

The Nordic diet is predominantly plant-based with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses.

Eating the Nordic way

You don’t need to do a complete diet overhaul or deprive yourself of food to eat the Nordic way. Start by picking up some staples for your fridge and pantry – seasonal fruits and vegetables, oats, barley, rye, canola oil, legumes, fish, nuts and seeds, and some low-fat dairy.

Meals don’t have to be complicated. Breakfast could include some oatmeal with diced apples and walnuts. For a snack, why not try a bit of Skyr yogurt with berries. And at lunch, how about a nice green salad topped with lentils and a piece of rye bread on the side. At dinner, try some fatty fish or homemade bean patties served with peeled and baked root vegetables including beets, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.

The bottom line

The Nordic diet was specifically designed to revolutionize Nordic cuisine and improve public health. The Nordic diet is predominantly plant-based and encourages the consumption of more local and seasonal produce.

Unlike some other diets, the Nordic diet doesn’t count calories or restrict the times during the day that you eat. It’s more of a healthy eating lifestyle – so you can adopt the benefits of a Nordic diet, no passport required.

For any questions about changing your diet, you should consult with your healthcare practitioner.

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