Navigating the New Nordic Diet

Think fast:
  • Question 1: Which countries are considered to be in the Nordic region?
  • Question 2: Does the diet of the Nordic region promote health?
The first answer is simple: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The secondwell, the second is a bit trickier.

Countries around the world are regularly utilizing research evidence to design healthy eating patterns to decrease the risk of disease. In the United States, for example, there is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Choose My Plate and the DASH Diet.

Similar initiatives have been occurring in the Nordic region by scientists and chefs, and, as of late, they've caught the eye of those looking to lose weight. The average Nordic diet contains low amounts of fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of high-fat meats and large quantities of processed food filled with added fat and sugar. On the other hand, the New Nordic Diet is part of the health-promoting Danish multidisciplinary OPUS project. At its core, the diet is primarily a plant-based eating plan, using seasonal fruits and veggies, whole grains, rapeseed (canola) oil, fish and shellfish, moderate amounts of high-quality meat and fewer food additives.

The New Nordic Diet isn't about slashing calories, cutting carbs or ditching fat. Instead, it is a way of eating that's equally as good for you as it is the planet.

Based in part on the Baltic Sea diet pyramid, followers of the New Nordic Diet will discover the following:
  • Emphasis on vegetable and root veggies—cauliflower, broccoli, peas, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes and beets—as well as legumes, berries, fruits and herbs. These foods are located at the base of the pyramid and should make up the largest amount of one's diet.
  • Encourages cereals, crackers and breads made from whole-grain rye, oats and barley. These are consumed often and are therefore located in the center of the pyramid.
  • Utilizes moderate amounts of fish, shellfish, poultry, quality meats, eggs, nuts and low-fat milk products as well as fatty fish, such as herring, mackerel and salmon.
  • Forget olive oil—with the New Nordic Diet, you'll be using rapeseed (also known as canola) oil as your go-to.
  • Discourages the use of processed meat, convenience foods, butter, sweets, chocolate, candy, sweetened drinks and sweet bakery products. Such foods are therefore placed at the tip of the pyramid.
  • Suggests that water be used as the primary beverage to quench thirst, and restricts alcohol usage.
If you read through those parameters of the eating plan and thought to yourself, "This all sounds very familiar…" chances are you're seeing similarities between the New Nordic Diet and the popular Mediterranean diet. In many ways, both are alike. However, while the Mediterranean diet encourages the use of olive oil and daily red wine, the New Nordic Diet focuses instead on canola oil and discourages alcohol consumption.

How Your Health Benefits

Weight loss or maintenance is one thing, but sustainable healthy eating is all about reaping those long-term health benefits, and the New Nordic Diet delivers. The World Health Organization states that the eating pattern of the New Nordic Diet leads to numerous health benefits and may even help to prevent disease. Several studies have found that the New Nordic Diet could reduce mortality in people with cardiovascular disease, and there is also research to support the use of the diet to help in lowering blood pressure, decreasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and improving insulin sensitivity. The diet has also been shown to help with weight loss, as well as long-term weight maintenance.

While the New Nordic Diet provides guidelines regarding food selection for improved health, it also includes other lifestyle principles that guide people to slow down and take care of Mother Earth—which should come as no surprise since this is the same region that gave us the concept of hygge.

The New Nordic Diet encourages cooking at home using simple-to-prepare recipes that incorporate seasonal, locally-sourced and organic ingredients. Plus, thanks to its focus on decreasing waste and eating less meat, you'll be actively helping to protect the environment with every healthy meal.

But What Does a Registered Dietitian Really Think?

In my professional opinion as a registered dietitian and health coach, it is the aforementioned concepts that truly set the New Nordic Diet apart from other healthy eating plans. People need food to be easily obtainable and affordable. They need meal prep to be simple. But above all, they want food to be familiar and delicious. If we are going to make a shift in our eating habits, it must fit with our cultural norms, and the New Nordic Diet makes the transition to healthier eating easier, more sustainable and fun.

The bottom line is that the New Nordic Diet is really just a "regional interpretation" of the evidence-based eating guidelines that have been incorporated into many eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet, DASH Diet and Choose My Plate. Many reading this article probably don't live in the Nordic region; therefore, cultural norms and food availability will differ. However, if you're ready to navigate the New Nordic Diet in modified Viking-style, there are a few simple ways to incorporate some of the principles into your home-cooked meal plan while using local foods from your area:
  • Add veggies to your omelet
  • Serve low-fat plain yogurt with fresh berries
  • Make cooked oatmeal with chopped apples and cinnamon
  • Top whole-rye crackers with nut or peanut butter
  • Serve grilled salmon with sautéed veggies in canola oil
  • Give your baked potato a boost with veggies and low-fat cheese
  • Add white beans to your homemade vegetable soup
Finally, unplug yourself from all your screens, connect with those at the table, relax and enjoy your tasty creation.