This article describes the Nordic diet by answering three questions:
- What is the Nordic diet?
- How do the Nordic and Mediterranean diets compare?
- Is a Nordic diet practicable in the UK?
‘Diet’ in this article means the sort of food a person or a community normally eats, rather than the kind of restrictive or limited eating patterns a person might follow to lose weight.
What is the Nordic diet?
The Nordic diet is a combination of the healthier foods traditionally eaten in some Scandinavian countries.
Many recent studies have explored the effects of the slightly modified ‘healthy’ and ‘new’ Nordic diets. These diets are based on the healthiest types of food traditionally eaten in those countries, including:
- 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 such as oats, barley and rye.
- Potatoes, herbs and wild mushrooms.
- Plenty of fish, such as cod, herring, mackerel, trout and salmon, and other food from the sea, such as shellfish and seaweed.
- Vegetable oils like rapeseed (also 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.
- Low or limited salt.
In principle this should be a healthy diet, as many of the ingredients are associated with good health.
While the data are limited so far, several studies suggest that following a Nordic eating pattern may foster weight loss and lower blood pressure.
Harvard Health Publishing
A Nordic diet can also be used colder countries such as the UK, where it may not be practicable to grow many of the foods found in the Mediterranean diet.
However, this relies on excluding or limiting some of the less healthy foods traditionally eaten in Scandinavian countries, such as salt-cured foods and high-fat dairy products, including butter and cheese. The growing season in the UK is also much shorter than in the Mediterranean, meaning that local fruit and vegetables need to be preserved to last into the winter.
How do the Nordic and Mediterranean diets compare?
The Mediterranean and the Nordic diets share more similarities than differences. Both diets are based on typical local and seasonal foods; they share similar nutritional recommendations based on plant-based dietary principles, and they are both oriented toward environmental protection and sustainability.
The main difference between the two diets is the primary source of fat/oil: olive oil is the main oil for the Mediterranean diet while the Nordic diet uses more rapeseed/canola oil.
Is a Nordic diet practicable in the UK?
- Some ingredients are not naturally found the UK and also are not readily available in supermarkets or at local markets or shops (e.g. 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, venison.
- Fortunately, most of the vegetables, cereals, fish, herbs and potatoes in the Nordic diet are also widely available in the UK.
The Nordic and Mediterranean diets are very similar in terms of health benefits, risks, costs and weight loss, so determining which is better largely comes down to taste.
Do you prefer the olive-based flavours of southern Europe, or do you like a more Scandinavian flair to your dishes?
- 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.
- The ‘healthy’ version of the Nordic diet contains low-fat dairy products and limited salt.
- Many of the Nordic diet ingredients are cold-climate equivalents of those in the Mediterranean diet (e.g. fruit, vegetables, vegetable oil and fish), so they will often be available in the UK, either directly or through local equivalents (such as different types of berries).
Reviewed and updated by Elisa Knebel, March 2023
There is also more information on the Age Watch website:
- Diet: Healthy Nordic diet
- Diet: What is the Mediterranean diet?
- Diet: Mediterranean diet health benefits