What is the Nordic Diet a.k.a. the Scandinavian Diet? A new study claims its healthy benefits rival that of the much discussed Mediterranean diet.
In the past, the typical Scandinavian diet was associated with hot boiled potatoes, meat, smoked reindeer, smoked salmon, whitefish or herring; rich in chunky beef stews, homemade cheeses, heavy cream and bread heaped with cheese or smears of butter.
The premise was that due to below zero temperatures, the populace needed extra calories to fend off the arctic chill. Besides, fruits and vegetables were simply not available.
When we refer to the Nordic diet, we must include the countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. But things are changing and have been for the past few decades. Back in 1960’s, heart disease rates were among the world’s highest; however, between 1972 and 1992, heart disease mortality plummeted 55% among men and nearly 70 % among women. The same phenomenon occurred in Norway- heart disease deaths declined by 40 percent in the 40-49 year old age group, More modest declines also occurred in Sweden.
Thanks to years of aggressive governmental public health campaigns, these Nordic countries tweaked their diets in ways that can be instructive to other societies, like the U.S.
Nordic Countries at a Glance
High Fiber and Whole Grains
Whole-grain breads and cereals are the staples of the Scandinavian diet. Obviously, this means a high fiber content. As noted, studies show high fiber diets may reduce the risk of heart disease and help better manage type 2 diabetes.
In Denmark, they eat about 27 grams of fiber a day compared to about 9 grams in the U.S. A Finn gets two-thirds more fiber each day than a typical North American. Swedish consumers consume about 20 grams a day. The American Heart Association recommends 25-30 grams a day.
Whole grain Nordic bread like rye and barley are the norm in bakeries in these countries. They are no comparison to the highly processed varieties we find in North American supermarkets. Their bread is serious bread – the most robust rye, coarsest whole grain loaf you have ever chewed.
Lower Fat Dairy Products
Recently, most Nordic countries are eating lower-fat cheeses and yogurts as well as milk – a change from their traditionally higher saturated fat products.
More Fruits and Vegetables
These commodities played little roles in the traditional Nordic diet due to the lack of home-grown varieties available in warmer climates. Now, there is an increased availability due to a wider selection of imported produce. The Nordic governments are encouraging programs such as 5-a-day or even 7-a-day similar to those in the United States and other countries.
Much of the fish from the Scandinavian coast is exported. However, on the Nordic table, fresh from the icy waters is Baltic herring, salmon and mackerel, smoked and otherwise. All these species are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids.
The Danes eat generally healthy most of the week by skipping butter, eat low-fat cheese on their bread and more fruits and vegetables. However, they often splurge on the weekends by using a little cream, eat an occasional Danish pastry instead of rye bread. They take their time to relax and enjoy eating. They also have a lower life expectancy than most other European countries so there may other factors at play. For the most recent Nordic diet study: