What is the New Nordic Diet?
In similar fashion to the Mediterranean Diet, the New Nordic Diet is the traditional way of eating of people from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The focus of the diet is plant-based eating (lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains), specifically of foods that are in season and local to the region. I hear some of our vegetarian readers cheer, well that was the good news… Fish is a major source of protein, with red meats being kept to a minimum. Far more emphasis is placed on the quality of fish, meat and animal products rather than the quantity. Home cooking is encouraged, while processed foods and additives are avoided. Yay!!!
What’s on the New Nordic Diet menu?
Here's a small sample:
While we may not have the exact same produce available as our Nordic friends, the whole idea is eating seasonally and locally. With that in mind, there are a heap of options based on what’s available to you.
If you don’t live in the cool north of Europe then chances are you’ve never seen or heard of a lingonberry. Almost all berries contain powerful antioxidants that fight free-radical damage in our bodies and assist in disease prevention. As such, you want to include these in your diet, so other options would be blueberries, strawberries and blackberries when they’re in season. Likewise, if herring doesn’t feature at your local fish monger or fish market then salmon would be an alternative, it’s also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation and the risk of metabolic syndrome.
A noteworthy feature of the New Nordic Diet is the use of canola oil (aka rapeseed oil) as the primary cooking oil. Where the Mediterranean diet consists of extra-virgin olive oil exclusively. Logically the cooler Nordic climate better supports the rapeseed crops, and as such canola oil has become the staple. Canola oil is low in saturated fats and high in mono and polyunsaturated fats. The fatty acid profile particularly consists of oleic, linoleic, and alpha-linoleic (omega-3) fatty acids.
What is science saying?
Some research has been conducted on those that eat a healthy everyday Nordic diet, and there’s already some analysis on the ‘New Nordic Diet’. In fact, there is ongoing collaboration between Scandinavian researchers and chefs in an attempt to promote healthy eating in a sustainable manner. One study found the New Nordic Diet was effective for weight loss and for improving cardiovascular disease risk factors when compared to people who follow an average diet. Another study suggested that a The New Nordic diet maybe beneficial for improving cholesterol levels. Such results are consistent with other studies that found diets based on canola oil have a cholesterol-lowering effect, in comparison with diets that contain more saturated fats, along with improvements with blood pressure and insulin levels.
So, should we go Nordic or not?
The Nordic climate definitely plays a limiting role in terms of what’s available i.e. there isn’t a huge variety of fruit and vegetables included. While we wouldn’t advise prescribing to any one diet, there are some positive elements to this style of eating. Consuming foods that are local to your area, and in season, is a great way to ensure you’re getting fresh produce and incorporating more plant-based meals, both of which help provide a more nutrient-dense diet which in turn tends to also offer more health-giving compounds. Plus, removing processed foods is a valuable method for reducing your exposure to unwanted compounds.
At the end of the day we tend to say most methods of eating will offer you something, right down to experience. As a student nutritionist one of our assignments was to place ourselves on a diet of our choice. The objective? To understand what it’s like to change the way you eat, it’s generally much harder than we appreciate. In that process it became clear to me that experiencing a diet mean I tried new things, eat a different way, considered what I do eat with more thought and expanded my horizons. So, you may not go 100% Nord, but you might come out with new ideas.
While we’re saying, ‘sure, give it a go if you would like to’, remember, food shouldn’t be feared. Look down at your body, everything you see has come from what has passed your mouth, food is what nourishes us, gives us time to unwind, time to spend with those we love and gives us joy. At Cadence Health we love the non-diet approach and we believe it’s important to enjoy food, laugh a lot, move joyfully and connect.
Words by Idyi Willis, nutritionist and health education consultant and Leanne Cooper, nutritionist and educator.
We all have a role to play in community health, the only question is how do we play this role? Through intelligent, evidence-based inquiry we can understand how to health coach to support others in taking on positive behaviour change.