What Is the New Nordic Diet?

A Nordic diet emphasizes lots of fruits and vegetables and free-range seafood. (Photo: AS Food Studio/Shutterstock)

To understand how the new Nordic diet works, imagine the way you eat now but with less meat, more fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed foods. In other words, what you know you should be doing anyway. It's such a common sense approach to eating, that it's amazing it needs some unique name to stand out. But here we are — and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how easy and beneficial this eating regimen can be.

It all started with a restaurant ...

The origins of the new Nordic diet go all the way back to 2003, when two Danish chefs, Calus Meyer and Rene Redzepi, opened what would become one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world. Called Noma, its cuisine hails from the Nordic terroir, sourcing fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients for its recipes. Meyer and Redzepi decided a year later to organize the Nordic Cuisine Symposium, collaborating with Scandinavian chefs to create a "Manifesto for a New Nordic Diet." This set of guidelines were then adopted by the Nordic Council of Ministers, who used it to bolster the production and consumption of traditional, clean and seasonal food products. The diet is also being studied by OPUS, the research center at the University of Copenhagen, to see how the diet affects school performance in children.

Okay, but what is it?

If you're familiar with the highly regarded Mediterranean diet, the Nordic is extremely similar, but with a stronger emphasis on seasonal and local foods. A typical meal regimen would favor lots of plants and vegetables, whole grains (such as oats, rye, and barley), and small amounts of free-range seafood and meat. Unlike other diets, the new Nordic does not require you to embrace an all new meal plan, but to instead re-think the quality of the ingredients in your favorite recipes. Processed foods should be shown the door, while more fresh organic fruits and vegetables (particularly root vegetables like carrots and potatoes) should be given the spotlight. The Nordic really shouldn't be approached as a diet as much as an education in eating well for the long-term.

New nordic diet guidelines

Photo of New Nordic Diet Guidelines courtesy of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries of Denmark

The proof is in the (barley) pudding...

While the new Nordic diet has been around for over a decade, studies examining its effectiveness in increasing overall health are just starting to bear fruit. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found the diet to be associated with lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation. Another published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the diet to be highly effective at both weight loss and a reduction in blood pressure for those battling obesity. According to dietitian Jessica Avasthi, it's not necessarily a surprise that diets like the Nordic and the Mediterranean are so well regarded by the medical community.

"Any nutritional plan that encourages more fruits, vegetables and seafood sources of protein is a benefit," she tells MNN. "We all need more fruits and vegetables for a myriad of nutrients (antioxidants, phytonutrients) that boost our immune system and prevent chronic disease states, like cancer or cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables also offer fiber, which makes meals more satisfying and keeps your gut health in check."

Avasthi adds that the Nordic's inclusion of seafood is also helpful in improving heart health, a major issue when it comes to the typical American diet.

"Adding more lean protein sources, like seafood, helps reduce saturated fat, known to contribute to cardiovascular disease if eaten in excess," she said. "An added plus is that seafood, particularly oily fish highlighted in the Nordic diet, offer omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health."

While she praises the diet's focus on clean ingredients and local food sources, Avasthi says careful consideration should be given to the reduced role of dairy.

"The only potential issue I see is that this diet minimizes dairy, which has the caveat of vitamin D or calcium deficiencies," she says. "This can be managed if canned fish is included, and plant-based milks, like almond or soy, are included because these are fortified with vitamin D and calcium."

If you're interested in sampling some Nordic-inspired dishes before jumping in with both feet, the official Denmark website offers some helpful cultural background and there are also a handful of Nordic Diet cookbooks with hundreds of recipes and tips.