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Nordic Diet: What Is It and What Can You Eat?

It seems like there’s a new diet invented every day. There are many options that have caught our attention, like the flexitarian diet, “The 100” diet or the fruitarian diet — just to name a few.

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But if you’ve heard of the Nordic diet (also known as the Scandinavian diet), you might be curious what it’s all about and if it’s just another fad diet.

The Nordic diet, which is based on principles that have been around for centuries, promotes a healthy way of eating by focusing on locally sourced fruits, vegetables and wild seafood. 

Registered dietitian Courtney Barth, RD, explains what the Nordic diet is, what foods are included and if it might be right for you.

What is the Nordic diet?

Very similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet focuses on whole foods that are typically found in Nordic regions like Norway, Denmark and Iceland. You’ll eat mostly plant-based, seasonal foods that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Think fruits (especially berries), vegetables and seafood.

One difference, though, is the type of oil each diet uses. The Mediterranean diet focuses on using extra-virgin olive oil, while the Nordic diet touts canola oil. Canola oil has less saturated fat than extra-virgin olive oil and can be used in cooking and baking at a higher temperature than olive oil. It should be noted that most canola oil available in the U.S. is processed and lacks antioxidants compared to olive oil.

“Generally, both are good unsaturated, healthy anti-inflammatory oils,” says Barth.

The Nordic diet encourages people to consume less sugar and twice the amount of fiber and seafood than traditional Western diets.

Benefits of the Nordic diet

By focusing on eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables, the Nordic diet can affect your health in a positive way. Here are some potential benefits:

“For people who have arthritis or joint pain incorporating more whole foods can be the way to reduce inflammation further,” says Barth.

Foods to eat

The Nordic diet encourages you to eat a lot of whole foods, particularly sourced locally and in season, including:

  • Whole grains, particularly rye, barley and oats.
  • Fruits, especially berries.
  • Vegetables, especially root vegetables like beets, turnips and carrots.  
  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel.
  • Low-fat dairy like Skyr yogurt.
  • Legumes.

You should also eat the following in moderation:

  • Eggs.
  • Game meat like venison, rabbit and bison.

“Game meat is a good source of lean protein and is lower in saturated fat compared to red meats, which should be consumed once or twice a week,” says Barth.  

Foods to avoid

Like many diets, the Nordic diet has a handful of foods to avoid or only enjoy rarely.

Rarely:

  • Other red meats that aren’t game meat.
  • Alcoholic beverages.

Avoid:

  • Foods with added sugars.
  • Processed meats like bacon and bologna.
  • High salt foods like lunch meat, dried pasta and bread.
  • Fast food.
  • Sweetened beverages.

“Anything that’s really high in saturated fat and high in sugar is inflammatory to the body,” says Barth. “It causes the body to be stressed out.”

Is the Nordic diet right for you?

With a focus on eating locally sourced foods, following the Nordic diet can be a good way to try out local farmers markets in your area.

“Many of them will have a variety of booths with farmers who harvest fruits and vegetables that are in season,” says Barth. “You can also ask your local grocery store if they carry local produce and products.”

For some, following the Nordic diet could be challenging due to availability of local produce. It does take planning, so the time and commitment could be a challenge for some. Since produce like lingonberries and cloudberries aren’t available in the U.S., you may need to modify what you eat based on what’s available in your area.

But whether you focus on the local aspect of sourcing foods, the Nordic diet is a good roadmap for getting yourself into a realistic eating pattern. It can even be modified for vegans and vegetarians by adding more plant-based foods into your diet.

“The approach to the Nordic diet is more of a guideline that can be really sustainable for someone,” says Barth. “It’s just the basics and not overthinking or complicating what you eat.”