Coho Salmon - ©

First The Mediterranean Diet – Now The Nordic Diet?

Here’s a new one for you. It’s been around for a while, now – a long time, actually – but it hasn’t been getting the media play its southern cousin, the Mediterranean Diet, regularly enjoys. Researchers say the Nordic Diet can lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, even without weight loss…

Nordic Diet - © magtheweekly.comPicture of health: The Nordic Diet

Remember those famous 1973 TV PSAs from Participaction Canada? The ones that featured a 60-year-old Swede and a 30-year-0ld Canadian jogging along a path together? “These men are about evenly matched.” the voice-over narrator said. “That’s because the average 30-year-old Canadian is in about the same shape as the average 60-year-old Swede. Run. Walk. Cycle. Let’s get Canada moving again.

Whether that claim was accurate or not, it made people think. A few even followed its advice and got more active. Good on them. But I prefer to believe that the Swede owed at least some of his advantage over the Canadian to his diet and eating habits. Which brings us to the focus of today’s post: The relatively little-known Nordic Diet.

What it is

The Nordic Diet is really just the institutionalization of a set of principles that have been around for centuries. The current edition was published in 2012, and a 2022 update is on the press as we speak.

According to the Swedish Food Agency website: “Typical features of a healthy dietary pattern as described in [the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations] NNR 2012 include plenty of vegetables, fruit and berries, pulses, regular intake of fish, vegetable oils, wholegrain, low-fat alternatives of dairy and meat, and limited intake of red and processed meat, sugar, salt and alcohol.”

What it does

The Nordic Diet appears to lower cholesterol and blood sugar without necessarily losing weight, researchers say.

“It’s surprising because most people believe that positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol are solely due to weight loss. Here, we have found this not to be the the case. Other mechanisms are also at play,” explains Lars Ove Dragsted, a researcher and head of section at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.

How they proved it

Researchers studies a group of 200 men aged 50 and older from Finland, Norway and Sweden al of whom had elevated BMI (i.e.- were overweight or obese), and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. The group was divided in two with one half eating the Nordic Diet and other other half sticking with their usual types and amounts of foods.

“The group that had been on the Nordic diet for six months became significantly healthier, with lower cholesterol levels, lower overall levels of both saturated and unsaturated fat in the blood, and better regulation of glucose, compared to the control group.” Ove Dragsted reports. “We kept the group on the Nordic diet weight stable, meaning that we asked them to eat more if they lost weight. Even without weight loss, we could see an improvement in their health.”

The secret’s in the fat

The Nordic Diet’s big advantage appears top come from it’s heavy reliance on ‘good’ fats and oils, especially those from oily fish which are high in Omerga-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Flaxseeds, sunflower seeds and Canola oil also contribute significantly to the diet’s ‘good’ fat balance. Unfortunately, researchers say more work needs to be done to uncover the mechanism by which the ‘good’ fats perform their good works. Call that job security for the researchers.

My take

I think there are more than enough studies around already, from the past 20 or 30 years, that demonstrate how reducing saturated fats and eating more unsaturated fats can make you healthier and prolong your life. Looks to me like the combination of massively replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones, and upping one’s consumption of fresh fruits and veggies is the key to success. Not to mention adding more whole grains, nuts and seeds.

I also think it’s worth noting that the control group in Ove Dragsted’s study was allowed to eat what they usually ate – including processed and packaged foods, which this study and others have nailed as major contributors of ‘bad’ fats in all our diets. The control group’s diet’ also included normal (i.e.- elevated) levels of salt and sugar compared to the test group.


I see a lot of good in the Nordic Diet. One thing, though: Fish is costly, and that will turn off some if not many folks who are already struggling to feed their families any way they can. Fish, fruits and berries are also premium priced right now, not only because of transportation system interruptions but because, here in Canada (for instance), they’re out of season. But let’s all at least give this new healthy diet a tip of the hat and a promise to try it when conditions permit…

~ Maggie J’s