Why we should all adopt the New Nordic eating guidelines

Noma
CC BY 2.0 cyclonebill/flickr | A dish from Denmark's Noma restaurant.

Naturally, official Nordic eating guidelines include things like: "Eat more food from wild landscapes."

I never thought I’d see the day when I would fall in love with another country’s dietary guidelines. What the heck? I mean, how much of a nutrition nerd does one need to be to actually covet official eating recommendations? But here I am, struck with yearning and heart-eyes over the Guidelines for the New Nordic Diet (NND).

Much like the famed Mediterranean Diet, the NND is a regional approach to food that relies on general suggestions that are specific to the area; in this case, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Also like the Mediterranean Diet, the NND gets high praise for its healthfulness. In the World Health Organization’s comprehensive review of the two diets, the organization reveals that NND policies show unique evidence of positive effectiveness on the outcomes of noncommunicable diseases. These diseases – primarily comprised of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes – are now the leading cause of death globally.

The 58-page WHO review is actually a really interesting read. While I’ve known about New Nordic cuisine ever since chefs like René Redzepi and Claus Meyer stumbled into foodie world superstardom, bringing their modern Nordic sensibilities with them – I didn’t realize that the ethos had trickled into policy. (Redzepi is the force of nature behind Copenhagen's Noma restaurant, regularly ranked as the best restaurant in the world; a dish from there is pictured above.)

It all basically started in 2004 when a group of inspired Nordic chefs, including Redpezi and Meyer, created the manifesto for a New Nordic Diet (also called the Nordic Kitchen Manifesto, among other titles). The manifesto emphasizes that regional food should do things like, "reflect the changing of the seasons in the meals, and "promote animal well-being and sustainable production in the seas and in cultivated and wild landscapes." The good stuff.

As would be the dream scenario for any manifesto writer, the points were adopted by the Nordic Council of Ministers (the official body for inter-governmental co-operation in the Nordic region) as the ideology behind the New Nordic Food program. As the WHO review notes, the Nordic countries adopted a “collaborative regional approach within the wider Region to improve the diet, reduce production and consumption impacts on the environment, increase intervention sustainability and facilitate the achievement of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].”

Imagine that! Here in The States people had full-on meltdowns when, heaven forbid, the government tried to get some vegetables and whole grains into school lunches. Meanwhile, here are the New Nordic eating guidelines that the countries are promoting:

1. Eat more fruit and vegetables every day
2. Eat more whole grain produce
3. Eat more food from the seas and lakes
4. Eat higher-quality meat, and less of it
5. Eat more food from wild landscapes
6. Eat organic produce whenever possible
7. Avoid food additives
8. Eat more meals based on seasonal produce
9. Eat more home-cooked food
10. Produce less waste

Now obviously, my dream that we should all adopt Nordic guidelines doesn't mean I think we should all start eating reindeer and lichen. But there is so much to take away from these ideas. It's the principles here, ones that promote health and sustainability, that are so striking. Especially when compared to the sadly insipid USDA guidelines. Encouraging things like wild foods and organic produce, cooking at home, avoiding additives and creating less waste. That's like dirty talk (the good kind) to the sustainability- and delicious-food- and health-minded.

Food is first and foremost about fueling the body, so we should be eating the things that are healthiest for us ... but we can also no longer ignore the environmental repercussions of feeding so many people on this planet. Sustainable food systems are going to be increasingly essential.

So here's the thing. If you live in the United States, for example, in its current iteration at least these goals are not going to be encouraged by the powers that be. The present administration appears to be so smitten with the money and power of Big Food that we actually seem to be working in reverse of these principles. But that doesn't mean we can't strive for them on a personal level, or advocate for them in our communities and cities. Some of you may already be following these tenets to a T, but if not, start with just a rule or two and adapt them to the foods of your local region. I'll swap reindeer and lichen for local organic grains and foraged purslane from the park ... and try to keep my Nordic envy in check.

You can read the WHO report here.

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