Everything you need to know about the Nordic Diet backed by the WHO

Kevin Farrell

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Following the spectacular 2003 debut of their Copenhagen restaurant Noma, chefs René Redzepi and Claus Meyer organized the Nordic Cuisine Symposium the following year. At the event, a dozen of Scandinavia's top culinary figures created and signed the Manifesto for the New Nordic Kitchen, a set of guidelines that wove together the culinary threads and trends that would earn Noma the distinction of being named the world’s best restaurant for several years in a row. The manifesto, which laid out clear parameters for the New Nordic Diet, quickly drew the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO), which offered a glowing stamp of approval. But what exactly is the Nordic Diet, and can it be easily adopted all the way on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean?


To help put the Nordic Diet in perspective, WHO helpfully compares it to another European diet mainstay, the Mediterranean Diet, calling them both evidence-backed, region-specific healthy diets. The Mediterranean Diet is of course the Greek, Italian and Spanish-derived meal plan that calls for high consumption of olive oil, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, along with regular helpings of fish and dairy, with the rare serving or two of meat. Categorically, the Nordic Diet is nearly identical, only substituting olive oil for canola oil derived from the rapeseed flower that grows prominently across Northern European nations.

The Nordic Diet differs slightly from its Southern European peer though in that an additional lens is added to the mix – namely, a focus on hyper-local ingredients plucked, foraged and caught during the peek of their seasonality. Fatty fish are a staple of the diet, but in much smaller amounts than the seasonal produce that takes center stage, or in this case, center plate. And as you may have noticed that much of Scandinavia is hardly the temperate breadbox of the U.S. interior, where nearly anything can be grown at scale. Root vegetables, mushrooms and cabbages play a prominent role for much of the year.

The Nordic Diet calls for the use of organic foods whenever possible, and eschews processed foods and those with additives in nearly all of their forms. Scandinavian dairy products like the region’s skyr yogurt play a big role in delivering needed protein, as meats are only consumed in small amounts.

An average day’s meals on a Nordic Diet might look a little like this:

Breakfast: Oatmeal, skyr and apple slices

Lunch: Cabbage or leafy green salad, rye toast and mayo-free tuna salad, instead made with canola oil and lemon juice

Snack: Cheese, whole grain crackers and seasonal berries like currants, lingonberries, gooseberries or raspberries

Dinner: Roasted root vegetables like rutabagas, parsnips & turnips and a small, 3 oz serving of salmon

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Nordic Diet may be an effective tool for losing weight. Scandinavian countries have demonstrably lower levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 Diabetes than the U.S. The high levels of daily fiber intake help practitioners to feel satisfied from their meals for longer, and by avoiding processed foods, nearly everything consumed on the Nordic Diet is nutritionally quite dense.

But one area in which the Nordic Diet differs fairly dramatically from the Mediterranean is on the topic of alcohol consumption. While the people of Italy and Spain may gleefully kick back a glass of red wine a day as part of their heart-healthy diet, Nordic peoples are granted no such absolution under their regional diet. Alcohol is something to be consumed rarely under the Nordic Diet, if at all, which, come to think of it, might have something to do with those obesity and cardiovascular disease numbers.

So is the Nordic Diet for you, and can it truly be practiced here in the states? While you might not be able to partake in the exact seasonal fruits of the Scandinavian wilderness, a reasonable facsimile can be achieved by those who put some thought into it. For a bit of inspiration, consider looking toward the hyper-local movement of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, whose local ingredients and seasonal swings come close to mirroring the biodiversity of Northern Europe.


Kevin Farrell

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