In 2004, health and culinary professionals created the “New Nordic Diet” to address growing obesity rates in the Nordic countries. The Nordic diet, like the Mediterranean Diet, relies primarily on local, plant-based foods and is very low in processed foods. Even if you are not in a Nordic country, you can still implement the diet that is designed to give health and sustainability benefits.
What is the Nordic diet?
The Nordic countries are considered to be Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. The traditional diet of the people in these countries has obviously been around since ancient Viking times. However, the Nordic diet put some defining terms on what eating in these countries could and should look like. This diet isn’t meant to resemble what ancient Vikings ate, but it is more of a guideline for what modern Nordic countries should focus on.
Like other countries around the world, the traditional diet to this region is being replaced with cheaper, less healthy processed foods that play a role in increasing obesity rates and unsustainable farming practices.
The Nordic diet emphasizes:
- Local fruits
- Vegetables (primarily root vegetables native to Nordic countries)
- High fiber grains (rye bread, barley, oats)
- Fatty fish (herring, mackerel, salmon)
- Low sugar dairy (primarily unsweetened yogurt)
- Nuts, seeds and primarily canola oil for cooking
- Wild meats in moderation
- Fermented foods
In other words, it is primarily plant-based, naturally high in fiber, low in sugar and high in heart-healthy nutrients. Following this diet will provide about 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 25% protein and 25% fat.
How the Nordic diet benefits health
The Nordic diet isn’t considered a fad diet. It isn’t keto, low carb, paleo, etc. It is simply low in processed foods and high in natural plant foods. Some studies have found following a Nordic diet can be beneficial for heart health, weight loss and lowering inflammation.
For example, a 2014 study found following a Nordic diet for 18-24 weeks significantly reduced inflammatory gene expression in subcutaneous fat compared to following a control diet. One reason why the inflammatory gene expression was lower in the Nordic group is because the Nordic diet is high in antioxidants.
Nordic diet vs Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean Diet has received much publicity and notoriety for being one of the top regional diet patterns for health. Many studies have shown following a Mediterranean diet may provide heart health, weight regulation and lowered risk for other chronic diseases.
So, how does the Nordic diet stack against the Mediterranean diet? In many ways, they are very similar and could offer similar health benefits. They are both plant-focused and minimize processed meats and added sugar. Here are some slight differences between the two diets:
- The Mediterranean diet emphasizes olive oil while the Nordic diet emphasizes canola (rapeseed) oil. The reason is olives grow in a warmer climate, and rapeseeds grow in a colder climate. Both are considered heart-healthy oils, but olive oil may have the upper hand for providing additional antioxidants to the diet.
- The Nordic diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables grown in Nordic countries like cabbage, root vegetables, bilberries, lignon berries, currants, etc. It is meant to focus on foods grown in the colder Nordic climate.
- The Nordic diet emphasizes fermented meats, dairy and vegetables while the Mediterranean diet does not as much. Fermented foods can be beneficial for gut health.
- The Nordic diet includes more cured fish which may also be higher in salt and nitrates. Therefore, eating in moderation is recommended.
In summary, the Nordic diet tailors to a colder climate, and the Mediterranean diet tailors to a warmer climate. Besides that, the premise of both diets is pretty much the same: high in local plant foods and minimally processed foods. It is not a coincidence both Mediterranean and Nordic countries are considered some of the healthiest countries in the world.
How you can eat a Nordic diet
You don’t need to follow the Mediterranean or Nordic diet to an exact T. The whole idea of both diets is eating foods that are local and sustainable. You can eat a Nordic like diet by eating primarily local fruits, vegetables and proteins instead of ones that are flown or drove in from other countries. These choices for you may be different than the typical Nordic lignon berries and cabbage, but the idea is the same.
Helpful questions to get you started:
- How can you add more local fruits and vegetables to your meals?
- How can you get more whole grains and legumes—maybe even in place of meat one day a week?
- What sustainable food choices can you make to support local food producers?
- How can you cut down on some processed (pre-packaged) food in your diet?