Dietitian Melissa Meier reveals the ins and out of the popular plant-based Nordic diet, and why you might want to think about giving it a red hot go.
Thanks to a popular furniture chain, Swedish meatballs, cinnamon rolls and cheese pies are what a lot of people think of when it comes to Nordic cuisine. The Nordic diet, however, is a far cry from what’s on offer in the Ikea food hall. Hailing from the Nordic countries (read: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Nordic diet has a lot going for it – and I’m all for it.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
What is the Nordic diet?
Similar to the well-researched Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet is based on plants. No, it’s not vegan or vegetarian, but a large proportion of it is fruit and vegetables – so it’s jam-packed with essential micronutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants.
Native berries like blueberries and lingonberries are very common, as are cruciferous veg like cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale. Ditto for root veg (hello potatoes) and legumes (think: beans, peas and lentils).
Health-giving whole grains like rye, barley and oats are another feature of the Nordic diet. That’s a big bonus in my eyes, because consuming whole grains over refined grains is oh-so-good for you.
In case you’re not aware, whole grains contain all three natural layers of the grain: the outer fibre-rich bran, the nutrient-rich germ at the core and the starchy endosperm. Refined grains, on the other hand, contain just one layer: the endosperm. All in all, whole grains are far more nutritious and there’s a raft of scientific research highlighting their health perks.
Good-for-you fats are another feature of the Nordic diet thanks to the inclusion of fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), nuts and seeds. Canola oil is the primary fat used in cooking – and that’s one of the biggest differences from the Mediterranean diet which heroes extra virgin olive oil. Nonetheless, canola oil is recommended by the Heart Foundation as one of the healthiest oils thanks to its high percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
What’s not included in the diet?
And what’s off the menu? Well, unlike most diets, the good news is that no foods are completely off limits. Instead, it’s just about limiting all of the foods we already know aren’t the best for us in large quantities: highly processed foods, sweet treats and red meat. When red meat is consumed, it’s only in small portions (goodbye, huge T-bone steaks) and it tends to be game meat, like venison.
Is the Nordic diet good for you?
There’s not a huge base of scientific evidence supporting the power of the Nordic diet. What we do know, however, is that you really can’t go wrong when your diet is based on lots of plants, whole grains and good fats, with limited amounts of ‘junk’ food – so if you were to adopt these dietary principles, your health would surely thank you for it.
What’s more, the Nordic diet is also doing it’s bit for the environment, thanks to its focus on seasonal, regional, sustainably-sourced produce. All in all, it’s a resounding ‘yes’ from me.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.