When it comes to diets, “experts” have come up with plenty of duds along the way. They occasionally manage to dig up a few gems, too, which is the case with the Nordic diet.
Never heard of the Nordic diet before, or think you know the details but want a bit of a refresher? This is where you should start.
No, you’re not here to “eat like a Viking” or completely wipe out essential food groups from your daily meals like many other diets might ask you to do. In fact, you will be completely transforming your diet. The difference between this diet and many of the other popular ones out there, however, is that the changes you will be making are not only easy and affordable: they actually make sense.
Nordic Diet Review
The Nordic diet is based on research showing that those who live in the Nordic countries (Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden) are healthier because of the traditional foods they eat on a regular basis. Specifically, those of the Nordic regions have exhibited lower obesity rates and improved health markers compared to the United States.
Those who support and adopt the Nordic diet believe consuming traditional foods from these countries can lead to better health, at least in the short-term. So let’s break down what foods you would actually eat while on this diet before we get into pros and cons (HINT: there are a LOT of pros!).
Nordic Diet Plan Basics and Rules
Which foods are encouraged to eat on the Nordic diet?
One thing you will notice about the Nordic diet is that it does not exclude any food groups completely. You will most likely end up eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and even dairy on this diet, which is just one of many benefits to adopting it.
- Fruits and berries
- Fish and seafood
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (whole grain pasta, rye breads, rice)
What do people eat in moderation only on the Nordic diet?
The phrase “everything in moderation” sort of still applies to the Nordic diet. There are a few things you should eat only every once in awhile, most likely because of their higher fat content. Eat them as part of a treat after a long week as a healthy snack or make them a small part of a balanced meal.
- Game meats (rabbit, venison, duck, bison and pheasant)
If you are going to eat these foods in moderation, make sure to choose options from the grocery store or farmer’s market that are minimally processed and consume them in small amounts. Buy fresh cheese instead of cheese that comes in a package. Purchase low fat yogurt that contains as few added artificial flavors and colors as possible. Save game meats for special occasions only, such as holidays.
What should you never eat while on the Nordic diet?
As with most diets, there are some foods that are not recommended to be consumed on the Nordic diet. Unlike most fad diets, however, the things you would typically “avoid” on this diet are things you should technically be avoiding on any diet, at least in large amounts.
- Sugar sweetened beverages (which often contain artificial sweeteners)
- Foods that contain added sugars
- Processed meats
- Fast food
- Food additives (dyes, preservatives, sweeteners, flavor enhancers and more)
Foods and drinks that commonly contain added sugars
When you see articles online about people “quitting sugar,” they are not talking about the kind of sugars found in fruits and other healthy whole foods. They are usually referring to added sugars, which are ingredients added to foods during processing that can lead to conditions like diabetes and obesity if not controlled.
Some of the most common foods and drinks that have the most added sugar also happen to be foods and beverages the Nordic diet recommends we don’t eat or drink. They might also be some of the foods you really love … but don’t get discouraged! You can learn to replace them with better alternatives.
- Ice cream
- Fruit juices and energy drinks
- Store bought cookies and candies
- Donuts and pastries
- Alcoholic beverages
- Salad dressings
- Ketchup and other sauces
Foods that are the most highly processed
Foods that contain a larger number of food additives, usually meaning they have a much longer ingredient list than other foods, make up some of the most highly processed foods out there. Here are some foods you won’t be sorry to say goodbye to on the Nordic diet. Don’t worry: you can replace them with much healthier options!
- Breakfast cereals
- Salad dressings
- Canned soups
- Frozen pizzas
- Store bought pasta sauces
- Flavored yogurt
- Granola bars
To start, here are a few easy and delicious pasta sauce recipes you can try tonight.
Quick tips for succeeding on the Nordic diet
- Practice reading food labels before you begin the Nordic diet. Learning this skill will help you better identify highly processed foods with a plethora of added artificial ingredients and can teach you to choose healthier versions of your favorite snacks.
- Pick a Nordic diet goal, preferably something other than weight loss, since this isn’t the best measure of whether or not a diet is helping you eat healthier. Do you want to eat more whole grains? Cut back on fattening dairy products? Get those ready to eat frozen dinners out of your freezer for good? Set your goal and stick to it!
- Learn some Nordic diet friendly recipes so you can try new meal ideas while you are already in the process of improving your eating habits.
- Set a date in which you will start your new diet. For the weeks leading up to that start date, slowly begin to phase out the processed foods in your diet. You don’t have to completely change your eating habits in a single day! If you visit fast food restaurants for breakfast seven days this week, visit them only three days next week, two days the week after that, and so on.
- Research creative ways to prepare vegetables that will improve their texture and taste. Vegetables are some of the hardest foods for people to add to their meals when they aren’t used to eating them regularly. A little olive oil can go a long way.
Menu and Meal Planning
- Seafood and vegetable omelette
- Avocado toast
- (Whole grain) spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs
- Green bean casserole
Grocery Shopping List
- Whole grain rice
- Whole grain pasta
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries)
Does the Nordic Diet Work?
What are the benefits of adopting the Nordic diet?
Let’s be clear: this diet is a fad diet. Fad diets get a bad rap, and not all of them are bad. Some of them are extremely well meaning, and have their positive aspects. The Nordic diet is one of those kinds of fad diets. Looking at the big picture, switching to a diet virtually free of processed foods and artificial ingredients has the potential to really help you take charge of your health and feel great while doing it.
- There is a chance of improved blood pressure control on this diet.
- There is also a chance of improved blood glucose, or blood sugar, control.
- You will hopefully eat many heart healthy foods on this diet, such as fish, nuts and seeds, whole grains and certain fruits.
- You will eat fewer processed foods.
Are there any risks for people who follow the Nordic diet?
There aren’t necessarily any risks to adopting this diet, but if you aren’t careful, you might unintentionally go into this new diet thinking all of the potential benefits listed above are given side effects for everyone … which they aren’t.
The Nordic diet has many potential health benefits. Unfortunately, there is not very much evidence to back up the more specific theories. For example, there are only a few studies that have shown the Nordic diet might possibly lead to lower blood pressure and better control of blood sugar and other health markers. Generally, scientific results need to have been repeated many times before we can consider them reliable.
The Nordic diet may lead to short-term weight loss in some people, but that is most likely because of the diet’s emphasis on whole foods and discouragement of processed foods and food additives.
Like all other diets, there is nothing “special” or “miraculous” about the Nordic diet. It’s just another way of looking at healthy eating. This isn’t a bad thing. Just go into it with a positive mindset and focus on food instead of results.
If done right, the Nordic diet can be your gateway into a new and improved healthy lifestyle. The main reason diets fail isn’t because you love potato chips too much: it’s because you’re setting the wrong goals and focusing too much on the foods you can’t have.
Establish that goal and focus instead on the seemingly endless list of food options that ARE available to you on this diet. Anyone can succeed on the Nordic diet. Just stop treating it like a diet. Really, it’s just a different, perhaps even better, way to eat.