Every month There seems to be a new diet making the rounds online. One of the newest is the Nordic diet, which some claim may be better for your health than the Mediterranean diet. And research is starting to suggest it might have at least some similar benefits.
The Nordic diet is based on the traditional foods available in the Nordic countries. The core foods are whole grains (especially rye, barley, and oats), fruits (especially berries), root vegetables (such as beets, carrots, and turnips), oily fish (including salmon, tuna, and mackerel), legumes, and low-fat dairy.
But unlike the Mediterranean diet, which has a long legacy and whose health benefits have been consistently observed in population studies and research, the Nordic diet was actually developed by a committee of nutrition and food experts along with chefs, food historians and environmentalists. The motivation for its creation was to sustainably improve dietary guidelines in the Nordic countries while creating a local identity linked to food and culture.
Still, the Nordic diet shares a number of similarities with the Mediterranean diet, in that it consists of more whole foods and fewer or no highly processed foods. It also encourages eating more plant-based foods and less meat.
Perhaps the key feature of the Nordic diet is that it encourages people to ingest a diverse range of locally available foods such as mosses, seeds, vegetables and herbs (including those that grow wild). For this reason, berries like cranberries are a core element of the Nordic diet, while citrus and tropical fruits are not.
Although the majority of both the Nordic and Mediterranean diets are plant-based, the types of plants are very different. For example, people following the Nordic diet are encouraged to eat foods like seaweed and seaweed (which are high in nutrients like iodine, omega-3 fatty acids and even vitamin D), as well as other locally available vegetables and fruits. For the Mediterranean diet, people would include leafy greens like spinach, as well as onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers, all of which are locally sourced.
Nordic Diet: What Does the Evidence Say?
The Nordic diet is still relatively new and was first published in 2010. That means it’s probably too early to tell if it reduces the risk of chronic disease.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has been studied by researchers since the 1950s and 1960s — meaning we have a much better understanding of its links to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
However, some studies looking back at people’s eating habits have found that those who ate similar to today’s Nordic diet tended to be healthier. These studies found that Nordic eating habits were associated with a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in people from Nordic countries. However, the association between lower disease risk and Nordic diet is less strong for people from other countries. The reason for this is currently unclear.
The difficulty with these population studies is that they were looking at a dietary pattern that technically didn’t exist – since it was only defined after they had participated in these studies. This means the participants may not have followed the Nordic diet intentionally, making it difficult to really say whether the health benefits they saw were due to the Nordic diet itself.
However, a recent (but small) review examining studies on the Nordic diet found that it may lower some risk factors for disease — including body weight and LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol). However, no significant improvements in blood pressure or total cholesterol were found.
At this point, it’s probably too early to tell if the Nordic diet has any long-term health benefits — and if it’s more beneficial to our health than the Mediterranean diet. But based on the research out there, it appears that the Nordic diet shows promise for health.
Research also shows that some of the key staples of the Nordic diet (including whole grains and oily fish) are linked to better health on their own – including reducing the risk of heart disease. This suggests that combining these foods in the Nordic diet could result in similar health benefits.
Nordic Diet: Eat Locally
The Nordic diet is not just about health. It’s also designed to help the planet by using local and sustainable foods to enable healthier eating.
Currently, taste preferences and cost are some of the main barriers preventing people from adopting the Nordic diet. But if these barriers are overcome, the Nordic diet could very well be a more sustainable way of eating for people in the Nordic countries, as well as locally produced food for others.
While it may be too early to tell if the Nordic diet is healthier than other known diets – like the Mediterranean diet – it may inspire us to look at how we can adapt diets to focus more on eating whole foods focus locally grown.
However, consuming more foods common to both the Mediterranean and Nordic diets — such as vegetables, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and fish — along with eating less red and processed meat is likely the foundation of a healthy diet. This, along with eating a variety of foods and trying to be mostly plant-based, is more important to health than following a specific named diet.
This article was originally published on The conversation by Duane Mellor at Aston University and Ekavi Georgousopoulou at the University of Canberra. Read the original article here.