The Nordic Diet: A Dietitian’s Review

Want to follow the traditional diet of countries consistently rated the happiest in the world?
Posted on Apr 26, 2021 By Valentina Duong Valentina Duong

The Nordic Diet is quickly gaining popularity and traction in the nutrition world, with many individuals comparing it to the Mediterranean diet. Why not follow the diet of people from the countries consistently rated the happiest in the world?

As the Nordic Diet is relatively new, there is only a small number of studies researching its benefits and effectiveness in improving health. The NORDIET (2011) study found that following a healthy Nordic diet for 6 weeks where individuals ate as much as they wanted, resulted in improved cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity in individuals with high cholesterol. [1] In addition, The EPIC- Potsdam (2018) study highlighted that the Nordic diet may reduce the risk of heart attacks in both women and men. [2]

What is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic diet is an environmentally conscious diet that focuses on locally sourced, minimally processed, and traditional foods in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet focused on plant-based foods with small amounts of eggs, seafood, and dairy included. It focuses on foods that are in season, locally sources and organic.

Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid
The Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid / Nordic Diet Pyramid emphasizes the importance of plant-based foods making up the majority of the diet, followed by high quality wholegrains and moderate amounts of seafood, meat, eggs, cheese, milk and yoghurt.

Macronutrient distribution recommended in the NORDIET study (based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2004) [3]

What is the recommended macronutrient distribution?

  1. 50-60% of total energy from high- quality carbohydrates from foods rich in fibre (aiming for 25- 35g of fibre per day):
  • Limit refined sugars to max 10% energy intake
  1. 10-20% protein:
  2. 25-35% total fat

What can I eat on the Nordic Diet?

As you can see in the figure, these foods include:

Core, everyday foods:

  • vegetables (beans, carrots, mushrooms, parsnips, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini)
  • fruits (berries, plums, apples, pears)
  • wholegrain cereals (oats, rye, barley, dense sourdough rye bread)
  • potatoes
  • legumes and beans
  • nuts and seeds

Eat moderate amounts (2-3x per week)

  • fish (salmon, sardines, herring, cod, mackerel) – fermented fish often included.
  • meat and poultry (include game meats that are much leaner than beef founds in our supermarkets e.g. venison, deer, bison and caribou)
  • low-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, sour milk, yoghurt, cheese)
  • rapeseed oil (canola) or margarine

What should I avoid?

Consume infrequently:

  • animal fats (butter)
  • processed meats (sausage, salami, ham)
  • chocolate, sweets, pastries

Nordic Diet Pros & Cons

Pro

  • The Nordic diet is high in fibre and fermented foods. This combination is extremely beneficial for gut health. Fibre-rich foods also have the bonus benefit of improving cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity and can also help with satiety and weight loss. [4]
  • Rich in omega 3s fatty acids which is important or brain health. In particular, these foods within the Nordic diet are high in omega 3 fatty acids: seafood, rapeseed oil (canola oil), nuts and seeds.
  • Focusing on local produce and plant-based foods is good or the environment and your health!

Cons

  • The Nordic diet can be quite expensive when replicating it in a different country. For example, the main fruit emphasized in the Nordic diet is berries. When these are not in season locally, they are often more costly than other fruits. Therefore, focusing on locally-grown and in season fruits in the country you’re living in will likely yield similar benefits (even if these fruits and vegetables aren’t commonly eaten or specified in the Nordic Diet).
  • Options such as game meats (venison, deer, bison and caribou) are not readily available and accessible in Australia. This makes the diet harder to replicate outside Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.
  • It may be impractical for individuals who are time-poor and/or don’t enjoy cooking. The Nordic diet emphasizes home-cooked meals which may not be feasible for everyone. Luckily, there are many meal prep and meal kit companies available that focus on healthy foods including Youfoodz and HelloFresh.

How do I get started?

Instead, choose a grainy, sourdough rye bread. It’s filled with heart-healthy wholegrains that provide antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals. In particular, sourdough rye bread is higher than other types of breads in potassium, zinc, magnesium and phosphate. It’s also a low glycaemic carbohydrate and has been shown to cause a smaller rise in blood sugar levels compared to whole wheat and white bread. [5]

Swap out one meat-based meal a week for fatty fish, legumes or beans to get a good dose of omega 3 fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and shrimp are animal sources of the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Soy beans, kidney beans, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are great sources of the plant-based omega 3 fatty acids ALA.

Make home-made “cooking” easy by cooking your grains in advance. For example, cooking rice in the rice cooker at the beginning of the dayso you come home to fresh, aromatic rice. Put the leftovers in an airtight container in the frudge and reheat the next day to increase the resistant starch (a type of fibre that your body cannot digest) and reduce the calories! You can also bulk prepare overnight oats for the week in small containers or jars. Add low-fat milk, yoghurt, nuts and seeds to increase the protein. You can easily change the flavours so you never get bored! My two favourite overnight oats flavours are:p eanut butter with chia seeds, and pumpkin spice.

Eating the skin of fruit and veggies also increases your overall fibre and micronutrient intake as the peel is often filled with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Changing the fresh produce that you eat seasonally supports local farmers and reduces your carbon footprint as your food has travelled less resulting in less pollution and often less packaging. In addition, it creates variety in your diet and exposes your gut to different prebiotics (foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut).

The American Gut Project is a research initiative that aims to understand human’s gut microbiome. It found that having more diversity in plant foods resulted in a more diverse gut microbiome. Individuals who had 30 different plants per week had more diverse bacteria in their gut and more bacteria that produced short chain fatty acids. These short chain gatty acids are associated with many health benefits including improved immunity, reduced inflammation, in addition to better mental health. [6]

Challenge yourself to include one fermented food during your next grocery shop! While fermented fish is not readily available in Australia, some healthy fermented options that are accessible in most places are tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir. You can also easily make your own fermented vegetables at home with cabbages, radishes, turnips or carrots. The reason why fermented foods are so healthy is that they naturally contain probiotics (healthy bacteria that help the good bacteria in your gut thrive).

  1. Best sources of probiotics. Beneficial bacteria improve health. Isolated elements is for label, brochure, menu, advertising, article about diets, healthy and proper nutrition
    Best sources of probiotics. Beneficial bacteria improve health.

 

Final Verdict:

The Nordic Diet is a nutritionally balanced diet. It provides guidelines that can help reduce risk of chronic disease and minimise your impact on the environment. While there is still research being conducted on the Nordic diet, it is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet that is strong body of research. The main difference between the two diets it that the Mediterranean diet uses olive oil, whereas the Nordic diet uses rapeseed (canola oil). While I personally prefer to use olive oil, the Heart Foundation also lists canola oil as a heart-healthy oil.

The main benefits from the Nordic diet are derived from eating minimally processed, whole foods. Therefore, I would highly recommend you focus on increasing home-cooked meals made with whole foods from each food group in the Nordic diet.

 

 

The Nordic Diet FAQs

What is the healthiest diet in the world?

There is no one fits all diet for the world but the diet with the most research is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet emphasises whole, plant-based foods with red meat, fish, eggs and dairy in moderation.

Nordic diet or Mediterranean diet? Which is better?

The Mediterannean diet is well-researched, evidence-based eating patterns with a ton of benefits on cardiovascular health, brain health and even mood. It is very similar to the Nordic diet,witht he main difference being that the Nordic diet recommends canola oil, whereas the Mediterranean diet recommends olive oil. Based on the evidence base, the Mediterranean diet would be a better choice for many individuals.

Is the Nordic diet expensive?

The Nordic diet can be expensive if you’re focusing on eating traditional Nordic foods. Instead, use the principles of the Nordic diet and shift your focus onto eating locally sourced, minimally processed foods right where you are. You can still mimic the high berries intake at an affordable price by eating frozen berries.

What is the Viking diet?

The Nordic diet is considered to be how the Vikings used to eat. It’s based on locally-grown, traditionally foraged foods and game meats. It is a reminder to focus on home-cooked and non-packaged foods.

 

References
Adamsson V, Reumark A, Fredriksson IB, Hammarstrom E, Vessby B, Johansson G, et al. Effects of a healthy Nordic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolaemic subjects: a randomized controlled trial (NORDIET). J Intern Med 2011; 269(2): 1509
Galbete, C., Kröger, J., Jannasch, F. et al. Nordic diet, Mediterranean diet, and the risk of chronic diseases: the EPIC-Potsdam study. BMC Med 16, 99 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1082-y
Wulf Becker, Niels Lyhne, Agnes N. Pedersen, Antti Aro, Mikael Fogelholm, Inga Phorsdottir, Jan Alexander, Sigmund A. Anderssen, Helle M. Meltzer & Jan I. Pedersen (2004) Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2004 - integrating nutrition and physical activity, Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, 48:4, 178-187, DOI: 10.1080/1102680410003794
Barber, T.M.; Kabisch, S.; Pfeiffer, A.F.H.; Weickert, M.O. The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients 2020, 12, 3209. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12103209
Francesca Scazzina, Daniele Del Rio, Nicoletta Pellegrini, Furio Brighenti, Sourdough bread: Starch digestibility and postprandial glycemic response. Journal of Cereal Science. Volume 49, Issue 3, 2009, Pages 419-421, ISSN 0733-5210, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcs.2008.12.008.
Daniel McDonald, Embriette Hyde, Justine W. Debelius, James T. Morton, Antonio Gonzalez, Gail Ackermann, Alexander A. Aksenov, Bahar Behsaz, Caitriona Brennan, Yingfeng Chen, Lindsay DeRight Goldasich, Pieter C. Dorrestein, Robert R. Dunn, Ashkaan K. Fahimipour, James Gaffney, Jack A. Gilbert, Grant Gogul, Jessica L. Green, Philip Hugenholtz, Greg Humphrey, Curtis Huttenhower, Matthew A. Jackson, Stefan Janssen, Dilip V. Jeste, Lingjing Jiang, Scott T. Kelley, Dan Knights, Tomasz Kosciolek, Joshua Ladau, Jeff Leach, Clarisse Marotz, Dmitry Meleshko, Alexey V. Melnik, Jessica L. Metcalf, Hosein Mohimani, Emmanuel Montassier, Jose Navas-Molina, Tanya T. Nguyen, Shyamal Peddada, Pavel Pevzner, Katherine S. Pollard, Gholamali Rahnavard, Adam Robbins-Pianka, Naseer Sangwan, Joshua Shorenstein, Larry Smarr, Se Jin Song, Timothy Spector, Austin D. Swafford, Varykina G. Thackray, Luke R. Thompson, Anupriya Tripathi, Yoshiki Vázquez-Baeza, Alison Vrbanac, Paul Wischmeyer, Elaine Wolfe, Qiyun Zhu, The American Gut Consortium, Rob Knight mSystems May 2018, 3 (3) e00031-18; DOI: 10.1128/mSystems.00031-18
Valentina Duong
Valentina Duong
A nutritionist and powerlifter with numerous first place finishes at national and international competitions. Valentina's rediscovering joy, one snack at a time.
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