The Nordic Diet Review: What it is and if it’s Right for You – 80 Twenty Nutrition

The Nordic Diet Review: What it is and if it’s Right for You

If you’ve been keeping your eye on nutrition trends lately, you’ve probably noticed a lot of talk about the Nordic Diet. With features from Time, Oprah, and other news and media sources, the Nordic Diet is one hot topic! The Mediterranean Diet has had the spotlight on health-promoting diets for decades, but interest in healthy diets from other cultures is fairly new. Here’s my research based review on the Nordic Diet so that you can finally figure out if it’s right for you!

The Nordic Diet review: here's what the Nordic diet is and whether it can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and improve your health! Article by media registered dietitian nutritionist Christy Brissette of 80 Twenty Nutrition

What is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic Diet was created in 2004 by a group of chefs, nutritionists, scientists, and doctors in an effort to address growing obesity rates in Nordic countries. Just like it sounds, the diet is based largely on foods native to Nordic countries, with a three overall guidelines: more calories from plants and fewer from meat, more foods from the sea and lakes, and more foods from the wild countryside.

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With a focus on regional plant foods, the Nordic diet emphasizes root vegetables, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, fruits common to Nordic countries (pears, apples, plums, berries), and whole grains like rye, barley, and oats. It’s no surprise that there’s also a strong focus on seafood, since Nordic countries are surrounded by water. Fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel are particularly common. The recommendation to eat more foods from the wild countryside may seem unattainable to anyone living in a city, but it isn’t necessarily so – this refers to foods like wild mushrooms and berries, which can often be found in your grocery store.

So if the Nordic Diet emphasizes plants and seafood with limited meat products, you might be wondering what sets it apart from the Mediterranean Diet. Well, it was in fact inspired by the Mediterranean Diet, but it does have a few differences. Since it’s based on what grows and thrives in Nordic countries, the types of produce differ (not many tomatoes here!). That also means that canola oil is used largely in place of the Mediterranean Diet’s touted olive oil.

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Overall, you’re looking at a diet rich in high-fibre plant foods, fruits, berries, vegetables, whole grains, canola oil, nuts, fish, and low-fat milk products, but low in added sugars, salt, and saturated fat. Those guidelines put the Nordic Diet’s macronutrient breakdown right about on track with recommendations from the Institute of Science and Medicine, with about 51% of calories from carbohydrates, 17% from protein, 32% from fat.

nordic diet salmon

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What are the benefits of the Nordic Diet?

Here’s what the current research is saying:

The first study investigating the clinical effects of a Nordic Diet, the NORDIET study, sought to investigate its effects on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with mildly elevated cholesterol. Subjects were provided with a healthy Nordic Diet without guidelines on how much to eat. Even without guidelines on portion sizes, participants who ate the Nordic Diet lost more body weight than those who ate a control diet during the six week study – and that weight loss was largely sustained for at least 10 weeks after the study. This study also found that the Nordic Diet caused a significant decrease in plasma cholesterol levels, and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios, even after adjustment for weight change. Effects of the Nordic Diet on lowering plasma insulin and blood pressure were insignificant. These results pointing towards improved cholesterol and lipid profiles, with limited improvement (though no adverse effects) on insulin or blood pressure were confirmed by another study on the effects of the Nordic Diet, as well.

How does the Nordic Diet hold up in long-term situations, though? One Danish study sought to test the effects of the Nordic Diet in a controlled free-living situation, more akin to “real life” than the studies mentioned above, to see if the diet could realistically be recommended as a sustainable change. This 6-month study provided the Nordic Diet to participants in the style of a grocery store – so that healthy foods that fit the diet were provided to them, to be consumed however they’d like. Even with this laissez-faire approach to following a diet, subjects eating the Nordic Diet lost an average of 3.2 kg more than those in the control group over the 6 months. This weight loss was accompanied by greater reductions in waist circumference, hip circumference, and body fat mass as well. This study showed significant decreases in blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, and fasting blood glucose for those following the Nordic Diet – even after adjustments for weight loss were made.

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In addition to clinical outcomes, subjects consuming the Nordic Diet in all of the above studies reported feeling satiated, despite consuming fewer calories overall than control groups.

nordic diet vegetables

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Are there any downsides to the Nordic Diet?

No studies have warned of adverse effects of following a healthy Nordic Diet, and it’s difficult to say that a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and seafood would have many downsides.

However, it is notable that what we’re considering to be the Nordic Diet here isn’t necessarily the original Nordic Diet. Often times, the diet in Nordic countries is characterized by unhealthy features – high fat dairy products, margarines, red meat with sauces and gravies (Swedish meatballs, anyone?), and more starchy vegetables than otherwise. When Nordic Diet that we’re discussing was designed, emphasis was placed on the healthier parts of traditional Nordic cuisine, and I’d suggest we stick with that!

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There isn’t a ton of research out comparing the Nordic Diet to the Mediterranean Diet, which would provide insight on which regional lifestyle diet might be more beneficial. However, one study comparing the effects of both diets on weight loss found that following the Mediterranean Diet provided more significant weight loss results, even when participants were followed up with nearly seven years after the study.

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nordic diet weight loss

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The Bottom Line.

The Nordic Diet provides an outline for what I’d consider a generally healthy diet: high in plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, while limiting foods high in saturated and trans fats, meat products, and added sugars. Research suggests that following the Nordic Diet can promote many positive health outcomes, though these outcomes may not differ greatly from the benefits you’d get from following another overall healthy diet, like the Mediterranean Diet.

If the foods suggested in the Nordic Diet sound appealing to you and you’re looking for some guidance to healthy eating – I’d say it’s worth a shot! If that means making drastic changes to your current diet, see a dietitian first to help you make sure you’re meeting your nutrition needs correctly.
Are you interested in trying the Nordic Diet? Download or share this list of foods to choose.

The Nordic Diet Foods to Choose List - want to try the heart-healthy Nordic Diet for weight loss and better nutrition? Here is the complete list of foods to emphasize to get the benefits of the Nordic Diet! Article by Christy Brissette, media dietitian nutritionist and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition

–> Click here to Pin this list!

Are you going to try the Nordic Diet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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