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5 Health Benefits of the Nordic Diet

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By Joe Leech

The latest “diet" to appear in the media is called the Nordic diet.

Proponents of this diet claim that you can improve your health by eating “Nordic" foods.

These are the traditional foods commonly eaten by people in the Nordic countries.

The Nordic diet emphasizes locally grown and sustainable food sources, with a heavy focus on foods considered healthy according to “mainstream" nutrition science.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Several studies have shown that the Nordic diet can cause weight loss and improve health markers, at least in the short-term (1, 2).

This eating pattern is also supported by the fact that obesity rates in the Nordic countries are much lower than in the U.S. (3).

This article explains everything you need to know about the Nordic diet. What to eat, what to avoid, health benefits, a research review and numerous tips.

What is The Nordic Diet?

As the name suggests, the Nordic diet is a way of eating that focuses on the traditional foods of the Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland).

The Nordic diet was created in 2004 by a group of nutritionists, scientists and chefs, in order to address growing obesity rates and unsustainable farming practices in the Nordic countries.

Compared with an average Western diet, it contains less sugar, less fat, twice the fiber, and twice the fish and seafood (4).

Foods to Eat and Avoid

The Nordic diet emphasizes locally grown and sustainable food sources, with a heavy focus on foods considered healthy according to “mainstream" nutrition science.

  • Eat often: Fruits, berries, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, rye breads, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy, herbs, spices and rapeseed (canola) oil.
  • Eat in moderation: Game meats, free-range eggs, cheese and yogurt.
  • Eat rarely: Other red meats and animal fats.
  • Don't eat: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meats, food additives and refined fast foods.

The Nordic diet is actually very similar to the Mediterranean diet. The biggest difference is that it emphasizes canola/rapeseed oil instead of extra virgin olive oil.

As many critics correctly point out, many of the foods on the “Nordic" diet were actually never eaten in the Nordic countries back in the day.

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These include low-fat dairy and canola oil, which are modern foods. Fruit also does not grow well in the north, except perhaps for some berries.

Bottom Line: The Nordic diet emphasizes the traditional foods of the Nordic countries. It is similar to the Mediterranean diet in many ways, and heavily emphasizes plant foods and sea foods.

The Nordic Diet and Weight Loss

Several studies have assessed the weight loss effects of the Nordic diet.

In one study of 147 obese men and women, those eating a Nordic diet lost 10.4 lbs (4.7 kg), while those eating a typical Danish diet lost only 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg) (1).

This is fairly impressive, especially considering that people were not instructed to restrict calories.

However, in a follow-up study a year later, the Nordic diet participants had gained most of the weight back (5).

These results are actually very typical for long-term studies on weight loss. People lose weight in the beginning, but then it gradually returns over a period of one to two years.

Another study supports the weight-reducing effects of the Nordic diet. In this six-week long study, the Nordic diet group lost four percent of body weight, significantly more than those who followed a standard diet (6).

Bottom Line: The Nordic diet appears to be effective for short-term weight loss, even when people are not asked to restrict their calorie intake.

Health Benefits of The Nordic Diet

Healthy eating goes way beyond just weight loss.

It can also lead to significant improvements in metabolic health, and lower the risk of all sorts of chronic diseases.

Several studies have examined the effects of the Nordic diet on health markers.

Blood Pressure

In a six-month study on obese participants, a Nordic diet reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.1 and 3.2 mmHg, respectively, compared to a control diet (1).

Another 12-week study found a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure in participants with the metabolic syndrome (7).

Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Even though the Nordic diet is high in many heart-healthy foods, its effects on cholesterol and triglycerides are inconsistent.

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Some studies, but not all, have found a reduction in triglycerides, but the effects on LDL and HDL cholesterol appear to be so small that they are not statistically significant (1, 2).

However, one study found a mild reduction in the LDL-c/HDL-c ratio and the Apo B/Apo A1 ratio, as well as non-HDL cholesterol, which are all strong risk factors for heart disease (2).

Blood Sugar Control

The Nordic diet does not appear to be very effective at lowering blood sugar levels, but one study found a small reduction in fasting blood sugar (1, 2).

Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a major driver of many serious diseases.

Studies on the Nordic diet and inflammation have given mixed results. One study found a reduction in the inflammatory marker CRP, while others have found no statistically significant effects (1, 2).

Another study found that the Nordic diet reduced the expression of genes related to inflammation in the body's fat tissues (8).

Bottom Line: The Nordic diet appears to be effective for lowering blood pressure. The effects on cholesterol, blood triglycerides, blood sugar levels and inflammatory markers are weak and inconsistent.

Environmental Aspect of The Nordic Diet

The Nordic diet may be a good choice from an environmental perspective. It emphasizes foods that are locally grown and sustainably farmed.

Some proponents of the diet also recommend consuming organic foods.

Take Home Message

The evidence behind the Nordic diet is not particularly impressive.

It does cause short-term weight loss, and some reduction in blood pressure and inflammatory markers, but the results appear to be weak and inconsistent.

At the end of the day, any diet that emphasizes real food instead of standard Western junk food is likely to lead to weight loss and health improvements.

This has been demonstrated, time and time again, in hundreds of studies on various different diets.

However, there is nothing magical about “Nordic" foods, or “eating like a viking."

The diet works because it replaces processed foods with whole, single-ingredient foods. That's it.

This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

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As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."