- What Is the Nordic Diet?
- What is a healthy Nordic diet? Foods and nutrients in the NORDIET study
- The Nordic diet: Healthy eating with an eco-friendly bent
- What the diet delivers
- Bonus: It’s easy on the environment, too
- Is the Nordic Diet Really Healthier Than the Mediterranean Diet? A Nutritionist Weighs In
- The Nordic Diet: An Evidence-Based Review
- Foods to Eat and Avoid
- Blood Pressure
- Cholesterol and Triglycerides
- Blood Sugar Control
What Is the Nordic Diet?
Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson/Getty Images
The Nordic diet is loaded with whole grains, berries, fruits, vegetables, fish, and low-fat dairy products. It’s also low in added sugars and processed foods and designed to be easier on the environment than other eating plans. In general, it's a very wholesome way to eat.
“The Nordic diet focuses on produce, fish, and other foods common in Nordic cuisine. It’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, except it emphasizes canola oil instead of olive oil. Experts agree the whole-food emphasis is a logical choice for a nutritious diet that may reduce disease risk.”
—Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH
The Nordic countries are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Some researchers believe the Nordic diet is on par with the well-studied Mediterranean diet. Both feature anti-inflammatory foods that are high in omega-3 fats from fish, and both include lots of fruits and vegetables.
One interesting difference: The Mediterranean diet was codified by observing traditional ways of eating in the Mediterranean region.
The Nordic diet, also called the New Nordic diet, was actually created to improve public health by a group of experts (scientists, nutritionists, and chefs).
So while it does feature regional foods, they were selected for their healthfulness and environmental sustainability. That means some traditional foods are not included.
The Nordic diet stresses whole, fresh, seasonal, local foods and strongly discourages heavily processed foods. So you'll need to cut back on added sugars, packaged foods, and fatty red meats in favor of locally caught fish, locally produced dairy products, and seasonal produce. Choosing local, seasonal foods means this diet has less impact on the environment than other eating plans.
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables, especially berries
- Dairy products
- Healthy fats
- Poultry and game
- Processed foods
- Added sugars and sweetened beverages
- Red meat
At least 25 percent of the Nordic diet's calories come from whole grain products such as rye, barley, and oats. The diet also includes brown rice, whole grain pasta, and plenty of whole-grain bread. Whole grain and rye cereals are also allowed on the Nordic diet, as long as they don't contain added sugar or honey.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Berries
The Nordic diet includes at least one cup of fruit and one cup of vegetables each day, preferably organic, in-season, and locally grown. Recommended produce includes apples, pears, potatoes, root vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage.
The diet is especially rich in berries: Plan to eat at least two cups per day of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or the traditional lingonberries. Berries are low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals.
They also contain beneficial phytochemicals due to their colorful blue and red pigments.
Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are included in the diet, but sweetened milk drinks and sugary yogurt products are not. Consume at least two servings per day.
Eat fatty ocean fish salmon, herring, or mackerel twice each week (or more), plus eat one meal made with low-fat fish, such as cod or haddock.
The Nordic diet is fairly low in saturated fat and focused on healthy fat sources, including rapeseed oil (canola oil in North America), nuts, seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon.
Poultry and game meats are allowed, as long as you choose cuts of meat that are low in fat. Choose chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of lamb and venison; avoid other red meats including beef.
Avoid these as much as possible; they contain added sugar, salt, and fat, and are not local or environmentally friendly.
Avoid foods made with added sugars and sweetened drinks. One daily serving of fruit or berry juice is okay, but otherwise, stick with water, coffee, tea, and low-fat milk.
There are no particular guidelines on the Nordic diet for when to eat. But the diet's originators do suggest that people eat mindfully and communally. Share meals with family and friends, and sit at the table instead of eating on the go.
You don’t need to fill your kitchen with Scandinavian fare to enjoy a Nordic-style diet—just stock up the fruits and vegetables you already love and add lots of berries, fish, and whole grains. Switch to canola oil and low-fat dairy products and you’re all set.
The Nordic diet is flexible enough to accommodate other dietary needs, such as dairy-free, gluten-free, or vegetarian plans.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have small children who eat fish, you will need to watch out for the mercury levels in the fish you are eating and serving.
- May have health benefits
- Environmentally friendly
the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet delivers a lot of nutritional bang for the buck. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide lots of nutrients without a lot of calories. Colorful berries offer antioxidants. Fish provides omega-3 fatty acids. All the major food groups are represented, and the diet emphasizes whole foods, which are almost always more healthful than processed ones.
Two studies, one lasting six months and the other 12 weeks long, found the Nordic diet can lower blood pressure vs. an “average” diet. Another study, which analyzed a large group of patients over a long time period, suggests that the diet could help prevent strokes. A similar longitudinal study showed evidence that the diet is associated with a lowered risk of a heart attack.
When they created the Nordic diet, its originators were trying to address rising obesity rates in the Nordic countries. But they also wanted to promote a diet that would have less of an environmental impact than current dietary patterns.
Commercial farming and fishing can both be taxing on the environment, so the Nordic diet stresses the importance of eating food that's local and seasonal (meaning, less fuel for transporting it to market) and organic.
Not only is the Nordic diet sustainable in the environmental sense (it stresses foods that are produced using sustainable methods), it is also a manageable lifestyle change.
It uses familiar foods—more of some, less of others—and is not overly restrictive. Plus, there's no measuring or calculating. Just stick with the recommended foods, and eat the others sparingly.
(If you are using the diet to lose weight, you may need to be more cautious about calorie intake and portion sizes.)
While this diet has many benefits, it is not for everyone. For example, if you don't care for fish or don't have access to locally caught seafood (as many people in Nordic countries do), the Nordic diet might not be the right choice for you.
All that fish and organic produce can be costly, even if you live somewhere where that seafood is plentiful or there are lots of organic farms. These ingredients just cost more than conventionally farmed produce and inexpensive cuts of meat.
Finding and preparing these foods takes time, too. And since processed foods are not recommended, that means the majority of what you eat should be prepared at home. In addition, the diet's creators intended for meals to be consumed in a leisurely, mindful way.
The Nordic diet is often compared with the Mediterranean diet, and it does share many qualities with that diet and others that are considered healthy and balanced.
The 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Nordic diet number 9 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.6/5.
The USDA MyPlate guidelines encourage Americans to eat a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products each day. The Nordic diet includes all of these and recommends reasonable proportions of each.
Along with the Mediterranean diet, several other heart-healthy diets, both new and old, share qualities with the Nordic eating plan.
- General nutrition: This diet emphasizes whole, local, seasonal foods, with lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, other lean proteins and whole grains. These foods are all sources of important nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. And since processed foods are not recommended, the diet includes few empty calories and unhealthy additives.
- Practicality: While it's handy to plan meals and cook without worrying about calorie or carb counts, the ingredients on this diet can be hard to find, expensive, and time-consuming to prepare.
- Flexibility: There are no strict rules for this eating plan. It's not meant to be a weight-loss plan, but instead to promote foods and preparations that could have health and environmental benefits. So there is room to interpret it in a way that works for you.
- General nutrition: People who follow the Mediterranean diet eat mostly seafood, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains—ingredients that deliver lots of nutritional value.
- Practicality: This diet also doesn't require any special foods, supplements, calorie or carb counting. But since it also focuses on whole foods over processed ones, plan to spend some extra time and money to follow it well.
- Flexibility: the Nordic diet, this is not a formal plan that has firm guidelines. It's a set of preferences and recommendations, so you can use the ones that work for you and skip the ones that don't (although that may mean not reaping all the health benefits).
- General nutrition: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet was designed to help patients lower blood pressure. There are no off-limits foods, but the idea is to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts while cutting back on red meat, sugary drinks, and sodium. It's a healthy, low-fat, nutritious eating plan for almost anyone, with or without high blood pressure.
- Practicality: While the plan doesn't necessarily require calorie counting, you will need to track food-group servings (e.g., six to eight servings of grains, two to three dairy servings, and so on) to stay on track. No special foods are required, and this isn't a commercial diet plan. Instructions and resources are available for free. But you might need to learn how to cook differently, with less sodium and fat.
- Flexibility: You have the freedom to eat what you want within the recommendations, and DASH diet plans are available for several different daily calorie levels.
- General nutrition: A pescatarian diet is similar to a vegetarian one, with the simple addition of fish and seafood. This makes it a lot the Nordic and Mediterranean diets in terms of types of food and nutritiousness.
- Practicality: Skip the calorie counting and food tracking and just eat the foods that align with the diet. Organic and local foods aren't required, which could keep costs lower. You'll still want to avoid processed foods to make this eating plan healthier.
- Flexibility: its cousin, the flexitarian diet, this eating plan is very flexible. Eat the foods you prefer, simply skipping meat, poultry, and for some people dairy.
If you're looking for an eating plan that's designed to be good for the Earth as well as good for your body, the Nordic diet might be a smart choice for you. It's nutritious and may even have health and weight-loss benefits. But the expense of sourcing local, seasonal, and organic products could put this diet reach for some.
Remember that the diet will still be healthy even if not everything you eat is organic or local. The important part is focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods as much as you can.
What is a healthy Nordic diet? Foods and nutrients in the NORDIET study
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The Nordic diet: Healthy eating with an eco-friendly bent
If you’ve never heard of the Nordic diet, you might imagine a plate of those Swedish meatballs sold at Ikea.
But in fact, this eating style focuses on healthier fare, including plenty of plant-based foods that nutritionists always encourage us to eat.
And while the data are limited so far, several studies suggest following a Nordic eating pattern may foster weight loss and lower blood pressure.
As the name suggests, the Nordic diet features foods that are locally sourced or traditionally eaten in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Developed in collaboration with the acclaimed Copenhagen gourmet restaurant NOMA, the diet emphasizes the use of seasonal, healthy, regional foods. (It doesn’t necessarily represent how most Scandinavians eat on a daily basis, however.)
What the diet delivers
Nordic diet staples include whole-grain cereals such as rye, barley, and oats; berries and other fruits; vegetables (especially cabbage and root vegetables potatoes and carrots); fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring; and legumes (beans and peas).
“The Nordic diet is a healthy dietary pattern that shares many elements with the Mediterranean diet,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The Mediterranean diet — widely considered the best eating pattern for preventing heart disease — also emphasizes plant-based foods.
Both diets include moderate amounts of fish, eggs, and small amounts of dairy, but limit processed foods, sweets, and red meat.
While the Mediterranean diet includes olive oil, the Nordic diet favors rapeseed oil (also known as canola oil). olive oil, canola oil is high in healthy monounsatured fat.
But it also contains some alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid similar to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.
Of course, fatty fish — the richest dietary source of omega-3s — play a role in both Nordic and Mediterranean diets (try for two to three servings a week).
The Nordic diet also emphasizes high-quality carbohydrates: cereals, crackers, and breads made with whole-grain barley, oats, and rye.
Americans may be familiar with Swedish Wasa crispbreads, most of which are made with whole grains. In Denmark, a dense, dark sourdough bread called Rugbrød is popular.
These whole-grain foods provide a wealth of heart-protecting nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Eating lots of berries is another unique aspect of the Nordic diet that may account for some of its health benefits.
Research by Harvard scientists has linked eating plentiful amounts of berries (such as blueberries and strawberries) to less weight gain and a lower risk of having a heart attack.
Berries are excellent sources of plant chemicals known as anthocyanins, which seem to lower blood pressure and make blood vessels more flexible.
Bonus: It’s easy on the environment, too
The Nordic diet offers an added bonus: it’s environmentally friendly. For one thing, plant-based diets use fewer natural resources (such as water and fossil fuels) and create less pollution than meat-heavy diets.
In addition, eating locally-produced foods also reduces energy consumption and food waste, says Dr. Hu.
And while the Nordic diet makes sense for those living in Northern Europe, people everywhere can apply those same principles to their diet no matter where they live.
While the Nordic diet isn’t proven to prevent heart disease to the same extent as the Mediterranean diet, it’s clearly a step above the average American diet, which has too much processed food and meat to be considered good for the heart. “People who really berries, rye bread, and canola oil should go ahead and enjoy a Nordic-style diet rather than waiting 10 years to get more evidence,” says Dr. Hu.
Is the Nordic Diet Really Healthier Than the Mediterranean Diet? A Nutritionist Weighs In
You've probably heard the buzz about the Nordic Diet: Headlines are declaring it the healthiest diet in the world, even healthier than the Mediterranean Diet. So should you consider eating a Viking? Here are my thoughts on the two diets, plus my pick for the ultimate healthy-eating regime.
The Nordic Diet and Mediterranean Diet actually share quite a few similarities. Both include plenty of vegetables and fruit; an emphasis on whole (rather than refined) grains; nuts, seeds, and pulses; seafood over meat; home cooked meals; and limits on sugary and processed foods.
One of the main differences between the two diets is the go-to oil. In the Mediterranean Diet, it’s olive oil—while canola oil predominates in Nordic cuisine.
Because both oils provide health-protective monounsaturated fats, many experts have deemed the diets equally healthful.
But in my opinion, the Nordic Diet takes nutrition a few steps further, with specific directives aimed at optimizing food quality, and connecting the dots between food production and the health of the environment.
RELATED: 24 Healthy Fish Recipes
The Nordic region—which includes Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden—is known for progressive wellness-oriented lifestyle movements. (This may be one reason Scandinavians consistently rate as among the happiest people on the planet.
) Their “hygge” philosophy is all about fostering a sense of contentment, while the “lagom” way of life refers to doing things in just the right amount—meaning living without excess, but also without limiting yourself too much.
The concept of “friluftsliv” meanwhile has to do with spending time in nature.
This forward thinking is extended to the Nordic Diet, with recommendations that include eating organic produce whenever possible; choosing more seasonal produce; eating more wild foods; choosing higher quality meat but less of it; avoiding food additives; promoting animal well-being; and generating less waste.
Then there are the research-backed health benefits of the Nordic Diet: One study showed that it protects against metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms (including high blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides) that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The Nordic Diet has also been found to reduce the inflammation within fat tissue, which is linked to obesity-related health risks.
Overall, I give the Nordic Diet higher marks than the Mediterranean Diet. But there's one caveat: I advise my clients to rely on extra virgin olive as their primary oil rather than canola. We have far more research about this good fat, and its production is more straightforward. (Avocado oil is another oil I recommend over canola.)
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Here are a few simple ways to incorporate other aspects of the Nordic Diet into your everyday life:
Include vegetables or fruit in every meal and snack. For example, add veggies to your omelet with berries on the side; fold shredded zucchini or chopped kale into overnight oats, along with a chopped green apple and nuts; snack on fruit with nuts or pumpkin seeds, or raw veggies and hummus.
Look for organic and local produce. Organic options aren’t always more expensive, especially when in season. Check the free Dirty Dozen app for the most important types of produce to buy organic.
Incorporate seafood three times a week, and make sustainable choices. Check out the free Seafood Watch app as a guide.
Replace refined grains with whole grains. Try Nordic style crackers, topped with mashed avocado or nut butter.
Eat tree nuts or seeds daily. Add nuts to oatmeal, salads, and sprinkle on top of cooked veggies. Snack on pumpkin seeds, or whip chia or sesame seeds into smoothies.
Include at least one serving of pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas) daily. You can make it the protein in a plant-based meal, or use pulses in place of whole grains (for example, serve fish on a bed of lentils rather than brown rice).
Eat less meat, and when you do opt for grass-fed, organic meat.
Make water your beverage of choice. Aim for 16 ounces, four times a day. And doctor it up with flavorful, antioxidant rich infusions, veggies, fruits, and fresh herbs.
Cook at home more often. Even if you use healthy “shortcuts” frozen veggies, or canned pulses.
Remain mindful of portions, both to prevent overeating, and avoid food waste. Eating more mindfully, without distractions ( your phone, TV, or laptop) can also help you naturally eat less.
For more on the Nordic Diet, check out this info from the University of Copenhagan. Skål (cheers!)
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
The Nordic Diet: An Evidence-Based Review
Written by Joe Leech, MS on February 27, 2019
- The Diet
- Weight Loss
- Bottom Line
The Nordic diet incorporates foods commonly eaten by people in the Nordic countries.
Several studies show that this way of eating may cause weight loss and improve health markers — at least in the short term (1, 2).
This article reviews the Nordic diet, including foods to eat and avoid, as well as potential health benefits.
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The Nordic diet is a way of eating that focuses on locally sourced foods in the Nordic countries — Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.
It was created in 2004 by a group of nutritionists, scientists, and chefs to address growing obesity rates and unsustainable farming practices in the Nordic countries.
It may be a good choice from an environmental perspective, as it emphasizes foods that are locally sourced and sustainably farmed.
Compared to an average Western diet, it contains less sugar and fat but twice the fiber and seafood (3).
Foods to Eat and Avoid
The Nordic diet emphasizes traditional, sustainable, and locally sourced foods, with a heavy focus on those considered healthy.
- Eat often: fruits, berries, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, rye breads, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy, herbs, spices, and rapeseed (canola) oil
- Eat in moderation: game meats, free-range eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
- Eat rarely: other red meats and animal fats
- Don't eat: sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meats, food additives, and refined fast foods
The Nordic diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet. The biggest difference is that it emphasizes canola oil instead of extra virgin olive oil.
As critics correctly point out, some of the foods on the Nordic diet didn’t exist in the Nordic countries centuries ago.
These include low-fat dairy and canola oil, which are modern foods. Most fruits also don’t grow well in the north — except for apples and several types of berries.
Still, the Nordic diet wasn’t designed to reflect the diet of Nordic people hundreds of years ago. Instead, it emphasizes healthy foods that are sourced locally in modern-day Scandinavia.
SUMMARY The Nordic diet emphasizes the foods of the Nordic countries. It’s similar to the Mediterranean diet and heavily emphasizes plant foods and seafoods.
Several studies have assessed the weight loss effects of the Nordic diet.
In one study in 147 obese people instructed not to restrict calories, those on a Nordic diet lost 10.4 pounds (4.7 kg), while those eating a typical Danish diet lost only 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) (1).
However, in a follow-up study a year later, the Nordic-diet participants had gained most of the weight back (4).
These results are very typical for long-term studies on weight loss. People lose weight in the beginning but then gradually gain it back over 1–2 years.
Another 6-week study supports the weight-reducing effects of the Nordic diet, as the Nordic diet group lost 4% of their body weight — significantly more than those on a standard diet (5).
SUMMARY The Nordic diet appears to be effective for short-term weight loss — even without restricting calories. Still — as with many weight loss diets — you may regain lost weight over time.
Healthy eating goes beyond weight loss.
It can also lead to significant improvements in metabolic health and lower your risk of many chronic diseases.
Several studies have examined the effects of the Nordic diet on health markers.
In a 6-month study in obese people, the Nordic diet reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.1 and 3.2 mmHg, respectively — compared to a control diet (1).
Another 12-week study found a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading) in participants with metabolic syndrome (6).
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Even though the Nordic diet is high in many heart-healthy foods, its effects on cholesterol and triglycerides are inconsistent.
Some — but not all — studies find a reduction in triglycerides, but the effects on LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol are statistically insignificant (1, 2).
Still, one study observed a mild reduction in non-HDL cholesterol, as well as the LDL-c/HDL-c and Apo B/Apo A1 ratios — all of which are strong risk factors for heart disease (2).
Blood Sugar Control
The Nordic diet does not appear to be very effective at lowering blood sugar levels, though one study noted a small reduction in fasting blood sugar (1, 2).
Chronic inflammation is a major driver of many serious diseases.
Studies on the Nordic diet and inflammation give mixed results. One study found a reduction in the inflammatory marker CRP, while others observed no statistically significant effects (1, 2).
Another study showed that the Nordic diet reduced the expression of genes related to inflammation in your body's fat tissues (7).
SUMMARY The Nordic diet appears to be effective at lowering blood pressure. The effects on cholesterol, blood triglycerides, blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers are weak and inconsistent.
The Nordic diet is healthy because it replaces processed foods with whole, single-ingredient foods.
It may cause short-term weight loss and some reduction in blood pressure and inflammatory markers. However, the evidence is weak and inconsistent.
Generally, any diet that emphasizes whole foods instead of standard Western junk food is ly to lead to some weight loss and health improvements.