What is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic diet highlights the local, seasonal and nutritious foods from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It’s quite similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it emphasizes whole grains such as barley, rye and oats, berries, vegetables, fatty fish and legumes, and it is low in sweets and red meat. The Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid recommends amounts of these foods that should make up a healthy Nordic diet.

How is this different than the Mediterranean Diet?

Like the Mediterranean diet, it’s high in plant-based foods. However, instead of olive oil, the Nordic diet is rich in rapeseed oil (more commonly known as canola oil in the U.S. and Canada). Similar to olive oil, canola oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Of all the common cooking oils, canola has the least saturated and most alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 polyunsatured fatty acid. Both the Mediterranean and Nordic diets include a moderate amount of fish, eggs and dairy and limited amounts of processed foods, sweets and red meat.

One other point to note is that the Nordic diet is more sustainable than many other diets because it emphasizes plants and sourcing from local vendors, which lowers the diet’s carbon footprint.

The Data

The Mediterranean diet is known for its association with a lower incidence of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. While the Nordic diet does not have enough research to make such claims, its premise is pretty similar: Eat lots of plants, whole grains, legumes and seafood, and go easy on the red meat and sweets.

When we break down the Nordic diet, it’s not surprising that it would be beneficial for our health. It emphasizes whole grains, which provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and it’s full of fruits and vegetables, which also provide key nutrients like vitamins A, C and E, potassium and fiber. Some small studies have concluded that the Nordic diet may help lower blood pressure (though the DASH Diet still reigns supreme in this regard). The Nordic diet may also help maintain cognition in individuals with normal cognition, but it’s still too early to say anything definitively.

Conclusion

You don’t have to completely overhaul your eating pattern every time a new diet proclaims to have supreme health benefits — if it’s high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and legumes, like the Nordic Diet is, then it’s likely going to be nutritious. Your job is to figure out how to incorporate some of the tenets into your lifestyle without completely overwhelming yourself in the process. Remember, your food choices should take up just a small amount of your overall mental energy each day. If you’re spending too long contemplating whether or not to have barley or rye bread, step back, take a deep breath and try not to overthink it.

This blog post includes contributions from Kris Sollid, RD.