What is the Nordic Diet?

What is the Nordic Diet? How does it compare with the Mediterranean Diet? Is it easy to follow outside Scandinavia?

What is a Nordic Diet?

The Nordic Diet is a combination of the healthier foods traditionally eaten in Scandinavia. Diet here means the kind of food a person or community normally eats, rather than restricting what you eat to lose weight.

Most recent studies have explored the effect of a ‘Healthy’ (or ‘New’) Nordic Diet. This is based on the healthiest ingredients from the food traditionally eaten in these countries i.e.:

  • Plenty of fibre-rich plant foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, cabbages and onions, beans and peas, root vegetables, fruits and berries, nuts and wholegrain cereals (like oats, barley and rye).
  • Potatoes, herbs and wild mushrooms.
  • Frequent consumption of fish (such as cod, herring, mackerel, trout and salmon) and seafood (including shellfish and seaweed).
  • Vegetable oils (like rapeseed – which is known as canola oil in some countries).
  • Meat from free-range livestock (including pigs and poultry) and game (like reindeer and venison, which tend to be lower in fat).
  • Low fat dairy products and limited salt intake

In principle this should be a healthy diet, as many of the ingredients have been associated with good health.

It is also helpful for colder countries, like the UK, where it may not be practicable to grow many of the foods found in the Mediterranean Diet.

However, this does rely on excluding or limiting some of the less healthy foods traditionally eaten in Scandinavian countries – like salt cured food and high fat dairy products, including butter and cheese. The growing season is also much shorter than in the Mediterranean, meaning local fruit and vegetable needs to be preserved to last into the winter.

How does it compare with the Mediterranean Diet ?

'Healthy’ Nordic Diet

Mediterranean diet 

Fruit (like cowberries, cloudberries, blueberries and lingonberries – plus apples and pears). 

Fruit (like grapes, olives, figs, pomegranates, oranges and lemons).

Vegetables (including cabbages, turnips, swede, carrots, beetroot, onions and leeks). 

Vegetables (including aubergines, courgettes, peppers and onions – plus tomatoes). 

Legumes (Peas and beans)

Potatoes

Nuts

Legumes (Beans)

Potatoes

Nuts

Herbs and Mushrooms,

Cereals (whole grains, like oats, barley and rye)

Herbs and Mushrooms

Cereals (wheat, maize/corn and rice – wholegrain being healthier)

Fish (like herring, mackerel and salmon), shellfish and seaweed 

Rapeseed oil (Canola)

Fish (like sardines, anchovies, tuna, mackerel, sea bream, sea bass, swordfish and squid)

Olive Oil

Free-range livestock (including pigs and poultry) and game

Only small amounts of red meat – some poultry

Some cheese

Some cheese 

The comparison shows the two diets have much in common, including plenty of vegetables, fruit, cereals and healthy oil (rapeseed or olive) and both diets include fish.

The main differences are based on climate (resulting in different types of vegetable, fruit and cereal in each geographical area) and also the higher consumption of red meat in the Nordic diet (although where this involves eating game this is the leanest and healthiest type of red meat).

Is a Nordic Diet practicable in the UK?

  • Some ingredients are not naturally found the UK and are also not readily available in supermarkets or at local markets or shops (like lingonberries and reindeer).
  • However, there will often be local alternatives (including a wide range of berries, such as raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries - and even, as far as game is concerned, sometimes venison).
  • Fortunately, most of the vegetables, cereals, fish, herbs and potatoes in the Nordic Diet are also reasonably available in the UK.

Conclusions

  • The Nordic Diet contains plenty of fibre-rich plant foods, plus potatoes, herbs, wild mushrooms and vegetable oils – as well as fish, seafood, free range meat and game.
  • Its healthy version contains low fat dairy products and limited salt.
  • Many of these ingredients are cold climate equivalents to those in the Mediterranean Diet(eg fruit, vegetables, vegetable oil and fish) – so will often be available in the UK, either directly or through local equivalents (such as different types of berries).

Delia Morick September 2014. Reviewed and updated by Christine Gratus, March 2017. Next review date February 2020.

Fish