Nordic Diet Guide: Probing Northern European Eating Secrets

Is the Nordic diet right for you? Keep reading to find out!

The Nordic Diet is nearly on par with the Mediterranean diet in terms of being one of the best diets for healthy weight management and reducing the risk factors of various lifestyle diseases.

So, what is the Nordic Diet, and what can you eat on its meal plan? What are the benefits of this way of eating? And, are these new Nordic diet eating habits good for weight loss?

In this diet guide, we will discuss what the Nordic diet plan involves, the principles behind it, foods to eat and foods to avoid, and potential benefits and drawbacks so you can decide if this Nordic-inspired diet is right for you.

Let’s jump in!

Nordic country flags.

What Is the Nordic Diet Plan?

The Nordic Diet is similar to the Mediterranean Diet in terms of the composition of the food list and the principles and potential benefits. 

The Mediterranean diet is designed to replicate the eating patterns traditionally found in the Mediterranean region of Greece and Italy.

Similarly, the Nordic diet plan is designed to closely follow the healthy eating patterns found in Iceland and the surrounding Nordic countries such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark.

Not only do these two diets share a similarity of having roots in traditional eating patterns of a specific region, but because the geographical regions are somewhat similar, there are only nuanced differences between the Mediterranean and Nordic diet food lists and meals.

Both diets focus on consuming whole, natural, unprocessed foods from a variety of food groups, emphasizing plant-based foods such as vegetables, fresh fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

The Nordic diet also encourages the consumption of fish, given the proximity of the Nordic region to the sea.

The specific diet guidelines were created by a group of scientists, nutritionists, and culinary experts in Copenhagen, Denmark, to provide a dietary framework that would hopefully improve public health.1Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Nutrition – Harvard Health. Harvard Health; Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/nutrition

Fruits and vegetables.

What Can You Eat On the Nordic Diet Meal Plan?

The Nordic diet is based on ten core concepts that ultimately provide a lifelong, sustainable, healthy dietary blueprint to follow. 

Nordic Diet Core Concepts

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables every day.
  2. Eat more whole grains.
  3. Eat more wild foods.
  4. Eat more food from seas and lakes.
  5. Eat foods with less packaging.
  6. Eat seasonal foods and locally-grown foods whenever possible.
  7. Eat organic produce whenever possible.
  8. Eat more home-cooked meals, and eat sitting down rather than on the go. Try to eat communally with others.
  9. Eat less meat and eat only high-quality meat.
  10. Don’t consume food additives, refined foods, and excess sugars.

This healthy Nordic Diet encourages whole, unprocessed foods, plant-based eating, and green living. It also suggests a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein at each meal, so it is a relatively high-carbohydrate diet.

Whole grain bread.

It focuses on healthy foods such as whole grains, vegetables, berries, fish, and low-fat dairy products. 

Here is an overview of what you can eat on the Nordic diet meal plan:

  • Whole Grains: At least 25% of the diet’s calories generally come from whole grains. The emphasis should be on rye, barley, and oats, but brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and whole-grain bread are also allowed. Unsweetened whole-grain cereals like muesli or oatmeal are permitted. 
  • Vegetables: Consume at least two servings per day of cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts), leafy greens, or root vegetables like turnips, potatoes, or any other vegetables. Try to eat seasonal, local, organic vegetables.
  • Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
  • Fruits: Berries and fruits are encouraged. Aim to have one cup of fruits like apples and pears per day and at least 2 cups of berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, or the traditional lingonberries. Try to eat in-season, locally grown, organic fruits.
  • Low-Fat Dairy Products​: Eat at least two servings of low-fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese daily, but not sweetened yogurts or milk.
  • Fish: Eat fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, or tuna twice weekly. Eat at least one meal of lean fish per week (such as cod or haddock).
  • Fats: Only heart-healthy fats like those in nuts, seeds, and fatty fish are permitted. The Nordic diet food plan for oils emphasizes rapeseed oil (known as canola oil in North America).
  • Lean Meats: Certain lean meats are permitted in moderation (once a week), such as organic poultry or game meats like venison and rabbit. Other red meats, including beef, should be avoided.

You are not supposed to eat processed foods of any type or foods with added sugar.

Whole fish on a plate.

How Does the Nordic Diet Work?

Rather than being a short-term weight loss diet, the Nordic diet program is intended to be followed for the long term as a lifestyle eating pattern.

This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy impressive Nordic diet weight loss results if you follow the meal plan, choose whole, natural, healthy foods, opt for reasonable portions, and control your caloric intake based on your caloric needs.

However, the ultimate purpose of the Nordic diet meal plan is to support health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and reduce the environmental impact by prioritizing local, sustainable foods.

The Nordic diet’s health benefits are not only facilitated by the healthy, anti-inflammatory Nordic diet foods that you can eat, but also likely due to the elimination of inflammatory foods that are removed from the Nordic diet meal plan.

Chronic low-grade inflammation is thought to be the root cause of many chronic lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.2Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E., Carrera-Bastos, P., Targ, S., Franceschi, C., Ferrucci, L., Gilroy, D. W., Fasano, A., Miller, G. W., Miller, A. H., Mantovani, A., Weyand, C. M., Barzilai, N., Goronzy, J. J., Rando, T. A., Effros, R. B., Lucia, A., Kleinstreuer, N., & Slavich, G. M. (2019). Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature Medicine25(12), 1822–1832. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0

A mother and child harvesting food from their garden.

Is the Nordic Diet Good for Weight Loss?

There are no specific serving sizes or Nordic diet calories that you have to stick to.

For this reason, although you can use the Nordic diet for weight loss, it can also be a diet to support healthy weight maintenance or even weight gain, depending on how many calories you need and/or choose to eat and your weight goals.

There are also no specific rules regarding how often you can eat.

This flexibility in meal timing allows you to make Nordic diet-friendly meals and snacks and space them according to your preferences, caloric needs, and lifestyle.

However, if you are trying to follow the Nordic diet for weight loss, you may need to track your calories and control your portion sizes.

Just because you are eating healthy foods on the Nordic diet food list does not automatically mean that you will see weight loss.

To lose weight on any diet, you have to be in a caloric deficit, which means that you are consuming fewer calories than you are eating.3Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

‌That said, the lack of processed foods (empty calories) and the focus on whole, satiating foods on the Nordic diet food list may help you stay fuller for longer while balancing blood sugar and preventing high levels of insulin.

The word organic.

What Are the Nordic Diet Benefits?

Most of the health benefits are mainly attributable to the emphasis on eating whole foods like veggies, berries, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins while eliminating inflammatory foods, refined grains, excess sugar, etc. 

Here are some of the top Nordic diet benefits:

  • Flexibility in the meal plan may improve adherence.
  • The specific foods may decrease inflammation. For example, rather than having all fruit, the Nordic diet food list focuses only on berries, which have been found to be particularly potent for reducing inflammation. 
  • Eliminates processed foods and excess added sugar, salt, fried foods, etc., all of which have been shown to cause a variety of health problems and weight gain4.National Institutes of Health. (2019, June 4). Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/eating-highly-processed-foods-linked-weight-gain
  • Low in saturated fat and salt, which can help support heart health.
  • May improve numerous markers of health, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity.5Berild, A., Holven, K. B., & Ulven, S. M. (2017). Recommended Nordic diet and risk markers for cardiovascular disease. Tidsskrift for Den Norske Laegeforening: Tidsskrift for Praktisk Medicin, Ny Raekke137(10), 721–726. https://doi.org/10.4045/tidsskr.16.0243
A family eating around a table.

Although there are fewer studies that have specifically looked at the Nordic diet benefits compared to the Mediterranean diet research to date, there is still plenty of reason to believe that the Nordic diet is a healthy, sustainable, long-term healthy eating plan.

It includes many of the same anti-inflammatory foods found in the Mediterranean diet or otherwise found to support overall health, lower risk of disease, decrease oxidative stress, and combat inflammation in the body.

Plus, according to Harvard Health, there’s an added benefit of the Nordic diet vs Mediterranean diet plan.6Corliss, J. (2015, November 17). The Nordic diet: Healthy eating with an eco-friendly bent – Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-nordic-diet-healthy-fare-with-an-eco-friendly-bent-201511198673

The Nordic diet is particularly environmentally friendly and has a sustainability tenet built right into its key principles. 

At its core, the Nordic diet is a plant-based diet despite the fact that it allows for some fish and other animal products.

Plant-based foods require fewer resources such as water, fossil fuels, and land area to produce.

Vegetables.

Moreover, unique to the Nordic diet vs Mediterranean diet is the emphasis on the importance of eating locally produced foods.

Eating locally grown foods reduces your carbon footprint and overall carbon emissions and pollution because the food does not have to be transported across the country in trucks or from overseas in boats or planes.

Overall, the Nordic diet is a sustainable, well-balanced, healthy eating plan for most people.

However, if you have concerns about portion sizes and weight loss, you may need more structure than just trying to follow the Nordic diet program.

It can also be costly and not practical to consume organic whole foods such as fatty fish and local vegetables and fruits, depending on your budget and where you live.

Additionally, if you are sensitive to carbohydrates, you may need to choose another diet or work with a registered dietitian to tailor the Nordic diet meal plan you are following to support your individual needs.

A nutritionist with a clipboard.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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