Explainer: What is the Nordic diet and why are health experts excited about it?

Image via iStock.

Move over Mediterranean diet: There’s a new kid in town. The Nordic diet is being touted as one of the healthiest diets in the world thanks to its emphasis on nutrient-dense seasonal foods grown in the wild.

So why are we suddenly putting this way of eating on a pedestal?

“This diet is rich in plant foods and encourages the consumption of oily fish, lean meat, wholegrains, dairy and good oils. In fact, in many ways it’s similar to our Australian Dietary Guidelines,” Melanie McGrice, a Melbourne-based dietician, explains.

“It encourages the consumption of whole foods that protect against chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Plus, it encourages people to eat seasonally and purchase local produce.”

The proven benefits of the Nordic diet.

In a study published  in the Journal of Internal Medicine, by researchers from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, found that participants who followed the Nordic Diet,  showed significant health improvements.

All participants had metabolic syndrome (an abnormality associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes) and those who followed the Nordic diet had significantly improved cholesterol levels.

Similarly, another study, by The University of Copenhagen, The University of Waterloo, Gentofte University Hospital and Frederiksberg Hospital, published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that the Nordic diet lowered blood pressure and assisted in weight loss. We’re in.

The 5 main components of the Nordic diet.

1. Berries.

Native berries are an important component of the diet, particularly cloudberries, lingonberries, bilberries, redcurrants and blueberries. Not only are they full of flavour, they’re really good for us too.

“Berries are low in kilojoules and renown for their antioxidant levels.” McGrice explains.

Blueberries are high in antioxidants. (Image via iStock.)

2. Cabbage.

While cabbage and brussel sprouts may not have the best rep in the vegetable world, if you want to follow the Nordic diet, then you had better get on board. The Norwegians eat a lot of 'em and for good reason; they're both high in fibre and contain plenty of nutrients.

"Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable which contains glucosinates which is thought to play a role in cancer prevention." McGrice says.

3. Fish and seafood.

In Nordic countries, fish is regularly eaten raw or cured, which helps to retain the nutrients (hello high omega-3 content which aids blood circulation and brain development). So upping your salmon, mackerel and herring content, if you can, is a great idea.

"Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids which have been found to reduce our risk of Coronary Vascular Disease," McGrice explains. (Post continues after gallery.)


5. Rapeseed oil.

Rapeseed oil is very similar to canola oil (canola oil is actually derived from rapeseed oil), and it grows in yellow flowered crops. It's is the main cooking oil used in Nordic countries. Why is it so great?  

"Rapeseed oil has a very similar nutritional profile to canola oil (they are often labelled interchangeably) and as such is high in good Omega-3 fats." McGrice explains.

5. Grains (oats, barley and rye).

Scandinavians love open sandwiches made with rye and spelt bread because they are delicious, especially topped with low fat cream cheese and salmon. Yum.

"The Nordic Diet encourages the consumption of grains such as oats, barley and rye which are high in soluble fibre which protects against bowel cancer," McGrice says.

Wholegrain means all three parts of the grain are used (the fibre-rich outer layer and the nutrient-laden germ.)

Are you keen to give the Nordic diet a go?

Melanie McGrice is one of Australia’s best known dietitians. She is a highly respected author and health presenter on nutrition and dietary issues – and a lover of great food! Join her free nutrition and wellbeing network here.