Natalie Rizzo, RD
As soon as you consider trying one type of diet, a new way of eating hits the scene. Just take a look at the past year: the ketogenic diet, the Blood Type Diet, and the lectin-free diet have all caused controversy in the nutrition world.
And now, another diet is basking in the limelight: the Nordic diet
However, it's not exactly new. Back in 2004, some of the best chefs from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden joined forces to create the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto. The mission was simple, and set the diet apart from the rest: create meals that emphasize seasonality, sustainability and ethics, health, and quality of food.
Unlike most fad diets, the Nordic diet isn't about cutting calories or ditching carbs. Instead, it's a way of eating that's equally good for you as it for the environment, thanks to its focus on plant foods.
The World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes that the Nordic diet has clear health benefits and may help prevent disease. So, how can you fill your plate the Viking way? Here's what you need to know about the Nordic diet before you try it for yourself.
What is the Nordic diet?
Based on the Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid, the Nordic diet is a plant-based eating plan that emphasizes root veggies, cabbage, mushrooms, and other produce grown locally in Nordic countries, as well as fatty fish and whole grains, says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, president of 80 Twenty Nutrition.
"The Nordic Diet originated from Scandinavian chefs with a mission to make delicious, healthy, local dishes. It's just as much about the environmental impacts as the health effects," adds Heather Carson, MHSc, a clinical dietitian in Edmonton, Alberta.
In many ways, it is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, but there's one key difference: the Mediterranean diet encourages consuming olive oil and a daily glass of red wine, while the Nordic diet pushes canola oil (which comes from rapeseeds) and only allows alcohol in moderation.
What are the health benefits of the Nordic diet?
The Nordic diet is abundant in important disease-fighting nutrients, since it emphasizes whole foods and plants. But because it still includes fatty fish and small amounts of dairy (like their native Skyr yogurt), you'll still get a healthy dose of protein (for your muscles), omega-3 fatty acids (for your heart and brain), and vitamin D (for your bones and immune system).
The Nordic diet is also low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, says Brissette, all of which have been linked to chronic health problems like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. In fact, one small 2011 study found that the Nordic Diet improved blood lipids, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure in people with mildly high cholesterol.
A similar 2014 study also concluded that it may reduce the expression of inflammation-boosting genes in obese people with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors associated with heart disease.
What's more, a 2015 study that included data from more than 57,000 Danish men and women suggests that eating the Nordic way is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.
The Nordic diet could also be good news for your waistline, potentially because it is naturally lower in calories and higher in gut-filling fiber. (Perhaps that's one reason why Scandinavian countries have less incidences of obesity than the US?)
While the Mediterranean diet has lots of research in its favor, there aren't many studies comparing it directly to the Nordic diet, so it's impossible to say that one is actually better for you than the other. The WHO actually encourages embracing either way of eating for your health.
How to try the Nordic diet
If you want to give the Nordic diet a try, start by stripping out the junk. Sugary and processed foods like cereals, soda, packaged pastries, and most frozen meals are a no-go. Red meat and alcohol should only be enjoyed in moderation as well. Ready to try the Nordic diet for yourself? Here is what a typical day of meals should look like:
* Breakfast: 1 cup of oatmeal, topped with apple slices and 2 tablespoons of Skyr yogurt
* Lunch: Tuna salad (skip the mayo and mix with canola oil and lemon juice) piled on top of rye bread with a leafy green salad
* Snacks: Seasonal fruit (like berries in the summer), an ounce of cheese from your local Farmer's market, and some whole grain crackers
* Dinner: 3 ounces of grilled salmon with a side of roasted root vegetables
Bottom line: The Nordic diet is a healthy way to eat, but there's not enough research to say that it's any better for you than the Mediterranean diet. Both are great options, so choose the one that you're most likely to stick to.
The writer is a nutritionist and Registered Dietitian