How the Nordic diet promotes health

A person’s health is often equated with their body mass index (BMI). A person’s weight is not necessarily the most important factor in assessing physical health. Studies on the so-called Nordic diet conclude that healthy food selection is much more important for blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and inflammation levels.

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Until now, the recommendation of a Mediterranean diet was well known. The so-called Mediterranean diet is recommended for cardiovascular diseases and, according to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), should have a beneficial effect on diabetes mellitus. The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes and grains. Fish also plays an important role, but red meat should be avoided.

The alternative to the Mediterranean diet

The problem: Some of the foods recommended in the Mediterranean diet don’t match the types of fruits and vegetables native to northern Europe. A sustainable diet with regional products is difficult, especially in autumn and winter. In addition, the dietary habits of the people of the North and the South differ.

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The Nordic diet is therefore considered an alternative to the Mediterranean diet. It is based on foods originating from Scandinavian countries, i.e. Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Finland. But it’s not just about smoked salmon, Köttbullar and Co. Instead, the Nordic diet focuses on plant-based foods considered healthy and available seasonally and regionally in northern countries.

In principle, however, it can also be said that this diet does not necessarily correspond to the daily diet of many people in the region – dietary errors are also widespread in Scandinavia.

It’s on the diet

According to “Harvard Health Publishing”, the internet portal of the famous Harvard Medical School, the staple foods of the Nordic diet include whole grain cereals such as rye, barley and oats. Wholemeal bread, but also cereal flakes (eg in the form of muesli) can be a very good source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Complex carbohydrates from whole grain products also have a more favorable effect on blood sugar levels than foods made from white flour.

Regional fruits are also on the menu of the Nordic diet. Above all, the consumption of berries – in this case blueberries native to Scandinavia, but also strawberries – is associated with positive health effects, according to “Harvard Health Publishing”. The phytochemicals and antioxidants in berries are said to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by having a beneficial effect on blood vessels and blood pressure. As for vegetables, the focus is on root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, but cabbage and legumes are also often found on the table.

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Rapeseed oil instead of olive oil

As with the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet recommends consuming only a small amount of red meat. Heavily processed foods such as sweets, ready meals or crisps are severely limited for both types. The Nordic diet is supplemented with moderate amounts of fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel or herring, as well as eggs and dairy products.

Probably the most important difference with the Mediterranean diet is that the Nordic diet prefers rapeseed oil to olive oil. What both oils have in common is that they are a healthy source of monounsaturated fatty acids. Additionally, rapeseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid of plant origin. By the way: fatty sea fish also contain other valuable omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, the Nordic diet recommends eating fish two to three times a week.

No weight loss diet

It is important to know that the Nordic diet is not a slimming diet – it is a diet that is said to have positive health effects. In a study from the University of Copenhagen, Scandinavian scientists determined that this is possible without losing weight.

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In it, two groups of 200 people tested were compared – half of them ate according to their previous habits, the other half received food corresponding to the Nordic diet. Both groups of volunteers were fed in such a way that their weight did not change.

All participants in the University of Copenhagen study had an average age of 55 and an average BMI of 31.6 – this means that the people tested were considered obese, i.e. obese. All of the study participants had symptoms of the metabolic syndrome – they suffered from several diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus or high cholesterol. As part of the study, blood and urine samples from the volunteers were regularly examined.

After six months, the group that followed the Nordic diet was found to be significantly healthier, nutritionist Lars Ove Dragsted from the University of Copenhagen told Sciencealert. The group had significantly lower cholesterol and lower levels of saturated and unsaturated fats in the blood. Blood sugar regulation also worked better in participants who followed a Nordic diet than in the control group.

Positive health effects without weight loss

Important: People who ate the Nordic diet did not lose weight, although the positive health aspects increased. “We can confirm that the absence of highly processed foods and less saturated fat from animal products has a positive effect on us,” concluded nutritionist Dragsted.

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Contrary to the general assumption that you have to be thin to be healthy, nutrition plays a much bigger role in overall health. This is also confirmed by other studies related to the Mediterranean diet. In the case of the Nordic diet, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contained in oil and fish in particular are suspected of having particularly positive effects on health.

Better: long-term dietary changes and exercise

So it doesn’t have to be a fast diet or a starvation diet to live healthier. Instead, it’s important to rely on healthy foods and the good fats. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) also warns against the principle of the “bikini diet”. “Short-term diets have no lasting effect and endanger a balanced nutritional intake,” says Antje Gahl, spokesperson for the German Nutrition Society eV (DGE). “Losing a lot quickly and just as quickly returning to your starting weight or even more – this characterizes these diets and can lead to what is known as the yo-yo effect.”

Instead, experts recommend a long-term change in diet and exercise to do something good for the body. And as the Nordic diet shows: Anyone who uses natural, high-quality foods and avoids heavily processed foods, sugar, and red meat doesn’t have to have a supposedly perfect BMI to be healthy.

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