Forget the Mediterranean diet – this year it’s all about the Nordic diet. Boasting a litany of celebrity followers like Heidi Klum, we’ve decided to unpack whether this popular diet is worth the hype.
Despite the fact that the Nordic diet has only been completely published since 2010, there are a number of studies from Nordic countries that suggest this diet could lower the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We’ll be unpacking the reasons for this, along with the foods you will and won’t find in this diet. You might notice the Nordic diet bears some resemblance to the Mediterranean diet, with a heavy focus on whole plant foods and fish, but there are a few things that set our Nordic friends apart. A few of the foods you’ll find in this diet weren’t prevalent in countries like Denmark, Norway and Iceland hundreds of years ago, because, in contrast the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet has a greater emphasis on reflecting the modern health scape. This means foods like low-fat dairy and canola oil crop up on the list. Let’s unpack the contents of this diet, from fruits and veggies to fish and diary.
Berries are an anti-inflammatory powerhouse – and of the best reasons to try the Nordic diet. Whether you go for strawberries, raspberries, lingonberries, blueberries or blackberries, you’re sure to get a hefty dose of antioxidants. These drastically reduce your risk for inflammatory diseases as they boost your immune system’s ability to ward off pathogens. A study found those who consumed blueberry powder every day had greater amounts of anti-inflammatory cells. while another study found that those who regularly ate strawberries had reduced inflammatory markers, including those that are linked to heart disease.
A number of vegetables are readily found in the Nordic diet – specifically whole veggies. These play a massive role in delivering our vitamin, mineral and fibre needs to keep our digestive health in peak condition. Root veggies are especially favoured in this diet – take a look at some of the healthful vegetable varieties that are consumed in abundance:
Fatty fish are staple foods in the Nordic diet – and it’s one of the reasons for its popularity and health benefits. These fish are loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation, boost brain and heart health, along with improving gut health. They also pack a hefty dose of vitamin D for strong bones and whole-body health – and considering 1 billion people around the world are deficient in the sunshine vitamin, it’s not a bad idea to get vitamin D from your food where you can. Take a look at the types of fish you’ll find in the Nordic diet:
You’ll even find seaweed in the diet – and this stuff is brimming with iodine and fatty acids.
Rapeseed (canola) oil
This oil is a popular addition to the Nordic diet, though it's worth noting we don't recommend this popular ingredient for a number of reasons, one of which pertains to its inflammatory properties. The heating process is known to damage and oxidise this oil, leading to the release of inflammatory chemicals – especially when it comes to the high heats you would reach with baking or frying. But it's not just canola oil, there's also a heated debate around the safety of a number of hydrogenated oils, especially when considering their trans fat content, which we'll dive into shortly. Another point of interest is that much of the canola crops have been genetically modified, including 90% of US-grown crops – though the health effects of this are, again, up for debate. It’s also worth noting that canola oil is hydrogenated and has a content of around 4.2% trans fats. One study suggests that the trans fats in hydrogenised oils, like canola oil, are harmful to our health, potentially leading to the development of heart disease. While canola oil may be a staple in the Nordic diet, we recommend extra virgin olive oil instead for an extra boost of antioxidants and healthy fats, but, again, low temperatures are ideal for optimal nutritional benefit. If you're looking for something with a higher smoke point, opt for omega 3-rich ghee.
Whole grains are one of the major staples of the Nordic diet, with rye, oats and barley all popular additions to the kitchen cupboard. While refined grains like some cereals, white bread and white flour have been found to promote inflammation, whole grains boost your health. In fact, they’ve been found to have an abundance of benefits, from reducing blood pressure and bad cholesterol to improving bowel movement regularity and protecting the gut microbiome. These grains provide slow-release energy, preventing blood sugar spikes, along with keeping you energised throughout the day. Their fibre
You’ll also find the following whole foods in the Nordic diet:
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Low-fat dairy
Eating these whole grains and legumes – along with whole fruits and veggies – can offer impressive health benefits. It certainly explains the diet’s popularity with a number of high-profile celebrities; take a look at some of the reasons to adopt this way of life:
- Reduces inflammation in the body
- Slashes your risk for metabolic syndrome
- Reduces your risk for Type 2 diabetes obesity and heart disease
- Lowers LDL cholesterol – the bad kind!
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Assists with weight loss and weight maintenance
Foods to avoid with the Nordic diet
Another benefit of the Nordic diet is the elimination of inflammatory foods that are notorious for causing gut issues, along with driving the obesity, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease crises. Let’s take a look at some of these foods to steer clear of:
- Added sugars and ultra-processed foods: Any of those cereals, muesli bars, flavoured yoghurts and confectionery products you’ll find lining the supermarket shelves are nowhere to be seen in the Nordic diet. It’s just as well, considering the chaos these added sugars have on the gut microbiome, along with causing the development of visceral fat.
- Fast food: Deep-fried fast food like fried chicken and chips are loaded with trans fats and excessive doses of salt, along with added sugars and a lack of fibre – that’s a combination for poor gut health. Think of your toilet!
- Red meats: You might find Nordic diet followers eating a bit of red meat on the odd occasion, but for the most part, fish is where the emphasis lies. With red meat-eaters facing a 22% higher risk for heart disease, the animals aren’t the only ones to benefit when you take Babe off the menu. But when quitting sugar, it’s important to have a plan in place to ensure you’re getting all your nutrients – and it’s surprisingly easy to accomplish.
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