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Move Over Mediterranean Diet—The New Nordic Diet is Here

October 20, 2014

As a registered dietitian, I constantly receive questions about the health benefits of different types of diets. It seems that every few months, there is a new diet released that catches some buzz with the millions of people who are trying to maintain a healthy weight. Some of these diets promote sustainable healthy eating habits, while others are quick fixes with no long-term solution. Some fad diets even border on the ridiculous. Recently, I became aware of a new diet that is nutritionally sound and great for heart-health—the New Nordic Diet.

In a recent study, scientists at Copenhagen University compared the health benefits of the traditional Danish diet, which includes plenty of baked goods and high-fat meats, with the specially developed New Nordic Diet. They discovered that overweight Danes who subscribed to the new diet lost three times as much weight as those who ate the more traditional Danish fare. Not only did the Nordic Diet result in weight loss, but also reduced incidences of high blood pressure.

What is the New Nordic Diet?

In a nutshell, the Nordic Diet is a heart-healthy diet that places emphasis on eating fresh, wild-caught fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and also foraged herbs and plants. It underscores the importance of eating seasonal foods, which are not only good for your waistline because they are fresher, but also for your wallet, since buying fruits and vegetables in season reduces the cost of shipping it to your local grocer.

To start, consider the list below to stock your pantry and fridge with Nordic-inspired foods. For a more comprehensive list, visit the Nordic Food Lab.

  • Wild-caught fish
  • Berries (all types!)
  • Foraged plants
  • Fresh herbs
  • Nuts
  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Seaweed
  • Whole grains
  • Cabbages
  • Root vegetables
  • Legumes
Similar to the popular Mediterranean Diet, which highlights the health benefits of pescatarian eating habits, the New Nordic Diet suggests replacing meat with fish. An important qualifier is that the fish should be wild-caught, not farmed, so as to maximize nutrition and avoid chemicals that produce artificial coloring.

Why Was the New Nordic Diet Developed?

In 2012, a popular New York Times article titled “The Island Where People Forget to Die” shared the story of a Greek war veteran named Stamatis Moraitism who lived by the Ikarian diet. The diet was heralded for adding up to four years of life expectancy when compared to the American diet. Fueled by this and other popular media coverage, many Europeans were quick to incorporate the Mediterranean Diet into their daily lives.

And yet, Danes struggled to adopt the Mediterranean Diet due to their distinctly different food history. Not coincidentally, Denmark held one of the worst records for heart disease as recently as a decade ago. The problem was so widespread that the country banned adding artificial trans fats to processed foods in 2003.

Based in need for a healthy way of eating that would be more palatable to Danish citizens, the New Nordic Diet was developed to draw upon the unique flora and fauna available in the cold Scandinavian terrain.

The New Nordic diet consists of 15 food groups, and according to Meinert Larsen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen. “There’s particular emphasis on foraged foods because they taste better, and usually contain greater amounts of vitamins and minerals than conventionally grown plants.” He continues, “The concept of a healthy, regional, sustainable, seasonal and highly palatable diet, he added, could in principle be applied anywhere in the world, not just Nordic countries.”

Five Tips to Getting Started on the New Nordic Diet

  1. No, you don't have to go hunting for things like wild sorrel and nettles. While foraged plants are an important part of the New Nordic Diet, you can substitute them for fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from your local market.
  2. Grains and legumes are inexpensive, and can often be bought in bulk at grocery stores. Choose organic options wherever possible.
  3. Get to know your local fishmonger and ask questions about where the fish comes from and how it was caught. Avoid anything marked "color enhanced" or "farm raised". Choose a variety of different fish so you don't get bored.
  4. When buying berries, look for dark varieties like blueberries and blackberries. The darker the color, the richer the berries are in antioxidants.
  5. Always remember to consult your doctor before making significant dietary changes.
So there you have it—the New Nordic Diet is not a fad. It's a sustainable and delicious way to nourish your body, improve your heart health and maintain a healthy weight. Give it a try and see if it is the right eating plan for you—then let us know what you think by messaging us on Facebook or Twitter.