Healthy Nordic Diet?
How healthy is the Nordic Diet? What evidence is there for this? Are there any possible side effects? What is the overall verdict?
Is the Nordic Diet the new ‘Mediterranean Diet’ as far as health is concerned? That’s what some media reports have suggested.
What is a Nordic Diet?
The Nordic Diet is a combination of foods traditionally eaten in Scandinavian countries. It contains plenty of fibre-rich plant foods (like cabbage, onions, beans, peas and root vegetables) plus potatoes, herbs, wild mushrooms and vegetable oils – as well as fish, seafood, free range meat and game. Its ‘healthy’ or ‘new’ version differs in two important respects from the traditional Nordic Diet – it contains low fat dairy products and limited salt.
What evidence is there for health benefits?
Lower mortality rates, particularly among men. That’s the verdict of one 2011 study which followed the health of 57,053 Danes, aged 50 – 64, for 12 years. This seemed to be due to eating traditional Nordic food with expected health-promoting effects (fish, cabbages, rye bread, oatmeal, apples, pears and root vegetables). Whole grain rye bread was the part of the diet most consistently associated with lower mortality in men.
Better overall physical performance among women (but not men) as they get older. That was an association found by a study published in 2016.
Some initial studies had suggested a healthy Nordic Diet can help with weight loss. However, a study of 27, 544 women, whose progress was followed over ten years, didn't find any association.
There have been a number of large scale, long term reviews of Danish patients (involving more than 55,000 men and women over an average of 13.5 years), with some results reported in 2015 and more results in 2017. These concluded that a healthy Nordic Diet was associated with:
- a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
- a lower risk of stroke.
- a lower risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) among middle aged Danes.
We should note that the evidence so far is of an assocation between a healthy Nordic Diet and a number of health benefits, rather than a proven cause and effect. However, in a situation where a strong association with health benefits is found and no harmful side effects are reported this is usually a positive start.
Are there any possible harmful side effects?
We have found no reports of any harmful side effects.
So is the Nordic Diet worth considering?
Research so far has suggested an association between the new Nordic Diet and a number of health benefits, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, longer life for men and better overall physical performance for women.
There isn't yet a proven cause and effect but no harmful side effects have been reported. So, on balance, a Nordic Diet seems worth pursuing, particularly if you live in a colder country where the ingredients of a Mediterranean Diet are less readily available or are more expensive.
Cabbages, onions, beans, peas, root vegetables and berries are all readily available in the UK, so worth considering as part of the government's recommended 5 a day fruit and vegetables. Also readily available and worth including are other significant parts of the Nordic Diet, like herbs, fish, seafood and free range meat.
Delia Morick September 2014. Reviewed and updated by Christine Gratus March 2017. Next review date February 2020.