Move over NordicTrack! Our friends from the North are bringing a new trend in health to the US. This time in the form of yummy, healthy Nordic cuisine! Am I referring to the tasty Swedish Meatballs from Ikea? Not exactly. Disappointing, I know. But, don’t completely write-off this new fare dubbed the “New Nordic Diet.” It has built a strong following over the last few years. Plus, the New Nordic Diet is well-grounded in nutritional science, has eco-friendly features, and the dishes are flavorful and nutrient-rich.

Behind The Creation Of The New Nordic Diet

“Nordic” is used to describe the geographical and cultural region encompassing the countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. The traditional Nordic diet relied heavily on consuming animal meats, potatoes, sweets, and processed and refined foods. Many of the traditional foods eaten by the people of the region were known to researchers and health experts as being foods that elevate the risk of mortality and diseases.

To change course and lower the risk of major chronic health problems, researchers and health experts from the region established the Healthy Nordic Food Index. The idea behind the Healthy Nordic Food Index was not the wholesale abandonment of the traditional Nordic diet, but to determine which foods within the traditional diet were the healthiest and encourage a higher consumption of those foods in lieu of the more unhealthy alternatives.

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In 2004, the movement toward creating a new Nordic diet around the healthiest attributes of the traditional diet and Nordic culture gained significant momentum when Danish chefs Claus Meyer and Rene Redzepi, world-renown for their restaurant Noma, rallied other leading culinary experts in the region around the creation of the Nordic Cuisine Movement. Their work became the foundation for what would become the New Nordic Diet.

What Are The Guidelines For The New Nordic Diet?

Overall, the New Nordic Diet emphasizes plant-based foods, high-quality complex carbohydrates, and fatty fish selections while limiting red meat, processed foods, and sweets. Here are some of the types of food you can expect:

  • Vegetables – While the traditional Nordic diet was light on legumes and vegetables, the New Nordic Diet is filled with root and cruciferous vegetables. Think carrots, beets, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
  • Fruit – The Nordic region is rich in native berries, which are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Think blueberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, and cowberries.
  • Whole Grains – Stay away from the overly processed and refined grains and stick with whole grains. Whole grains are lower on the glycemic index and rich in fiber. Rye bread is incredibly popular with the folks of the North. Also, oatmeal hits the spot on cold winter mornings.
  • Lean Game Meat – The New Nordic Diet emphasizes less red meat — only 18oz per week. When you do eat red meat, choose leaner wild game. Think reindeer and moose (or bison, here in the US).
  • Fish – Instead of red meat, go for oily fish 3x per week. Oily fish are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy omega 3 fats. Think salmon, herring, and mackerel.
  • Poultry, Eggs and Dairy – A small amount of poultry, eggs, and low-fat dairy is acceptable.
  • Rapeseed Oil – You are probably more familiar with canola oil than rapeseed oil. In the 1970s, Canadian growers bred a new variety of the rapeseed crop and dubbed the new cooking oil byproduct “canola.” While olive oil has proved to be the top choice in gourmet kitchens for a number of years, rapeseed oil is making a comeback, particularly in Northern Europe. Rapeseed oil has half the saturated fat of olive oil and is rich in Vitamin E and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. As far as taste, rapeseed oil has a light and nutty flavor as opposed to the more bland flavoring of canola oil.

The New Nordic Diet’s rise in popularity may be credited to more than a focus on healthy nutritional foods. Part of the philosophy behind the diet also links importance to food sourcing and preparation. Eating locally-sourced, seasonal organic food products from sustainable resources is preferred. Also, value is placed on home-cooked meals and minimizing waste. These sustainable and eco-friendly principles resonate with a growing number of people around the world.

How Is The New Nordic Diet Different From The Mediterranean Diet?

You may be thinking the New Nordic Diet sounds very similar to the Mediterranean Diet, and you’d be right. Conceptually, the New Nordic Diet and Mediterranean Diet are identical. Both emphasize plant-based foods and reducing the consumption of red and processed meats as well as other sources of saturated fat. The primary variance between the two is regional. Those living in the Nordic region have access to different local sources of food than those living in the Mediterranean region. After all, you’d probably find it quite difficult to grow Roma tomatoes in the cold climate and soil of Sweden.

What Are The Health Benefits Of The New Nordic Diet?

Designed by health experts based on the premise of improving overall health, the New Nordic Diet has seen positive indications in clinical studies. In a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2013, participants placed on a New Nordic Diet experienced improved cholesterol levels as opposed to the control group who ate a more traditional Nordic diet. While overall cholesterol levels remained relatively stable between the two groups, those on the New Nordic Diet saw a reduction in LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol) and an increase in HDL cholesterol (or “good” cholesterol). This outcome is notable to those at risk for cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes. In other studies, the New Nordic Diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure levels and led to weight loss, although there is not yet enough data to conclusively prove these two positive outcomes. In the coming years, more clinical study results should further support the New Nordic Diet as being an excellent source for heart-healthy meals.

Explore New Flavors And Foods

Maybe you’re not ready to completely go Nordic and join the ranks of the Vikings yet, but the New Nordic Diet does offer some wonderfully delicious, hearty meals. While some local Nordic favorites may be harder to find in the US, many of the recipes provide a great opportunity to explore new flavors and foods that you may just come to love. Plus, your health may just thank you for being so adventurous!

Excited to try some New Nordic Diet recipes? Amazon offers a few different cookbooks focused on New Nordic Cuisine.

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