Just when you thought you’d tried every diet out there, there’s a new player in the healthy eating game. Meet the Nordic Diet, which emphasizes packing your grocery list chock-full of foods inspired by the cultures of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Think of the Nordic Diet as a successor to the wildly popular Mediterranean diet — just coming from a different part of the world. “A healthy Nordic diet…is about the same as the Mediterranean diet on the nutrient level, but of course the selection of food is different,” says Dr. Matti Uusitupa, MD, PhD, and former leader of the Nordic Center of Excellence’s SYSDIET Project.
Intrigued by the thought of looking as good as the Nordic people do? (After all, supermodel Nina Agdal hails from Denmark…) Here’s how to start eating like a Viking — and reaping the health benefits of this crazy good-for-you plan, too.
How to Eat the Nordic Diet Way
Let’s get one thing clear: The Nordic Diet is nothing if not hearty. Its delicious and filling meals are built around a variety of fatty fishes, like herring and salmon, says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, and co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month By Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life.
And don’t worry, meat lovers. You won’t be required to give up your favorite staple. Just substitute fattier choices, like ground beef, for lean red meat, like bison, according to Uusitupa. Cutting back on milk fat, like butter, and watching your sugar and salt intake are important tenets of the diet, too.
While the Mediterranean diet is built around olive oil, one of the staples of the Nordic Diet is heart-healthy canola oil. And when it comes to fruits and veggies, you can plan to stock your crisper with berries, root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, cruciferous options such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, and green leafy choices like spinach, says Ansel.
Best of all, the Nordic Diet focuses on foods with tons of protein and fiber, both of which are necessary for keeping you full from meal to meal. “The Nordic diet is satisfying. It’s based on whole foods that are in season, so its foods are filling and taste better because they’re at their peak,” says Ansel.
The Health Benefits of Going Nordic
Start parsing through all the health perks of eating the Nordic way, and you may wonder why you’ve never heard of this diet before. “One of the biggest benefits of the Nordic Diet is better heart health,” says Ansel.
In a 166-person study in the Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers asked 96 participants to follow a healthy Nordic Diet and 70 to eat normally. By the end of the 18 to 24 week trial, the dieting participants showed significant health improvements. “We have shown that the Nordic Diet results in lower risk of cardiovascular diseases,” says Uusitupa, one of the study authors, “It decreases [the ratio of] LDL-cholesterol to HDL-cholesterol — that’s ‘bad’ cholesterol to ‘good’ cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.”
Another study in Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the Nordic Diet can actually affect genes involved with low-grade inflammation. “In that study, the Nordic diet decreased values of some inflammatory markers,” says Uusitupa. Keeping inflammation under control is especially important when it comes to making sure your health on point. “Low-grade inflammation is linked to an increased risk for some chronic diseases, like coronary heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease,” says Uusitupa.
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Not sure if your tastes jibe with a Nordic menu? The recipes below are an easy and delicious way to find out. Give them a whirl, and if you can’t get enough be sure to check with your doctor before overhauling your eating plan.
9 Nordic-Inspired Recipes You’ll Love
1. Berry Baked Oatmeal
Need a breakfast that will help you avoid the office vending machine? Look no further. Whole grains and fruit are both key elements of a healthy Nordic meal. The fiber in this whole-grain oatmeal is satiating, while the berries offer a sweet, satisfying kick — all for less than 200 calories. Photo and recipe: Emily Miller / Life by DailyBurn
2. Berry Green Smoothie
The Nordic Diet is all about piling on the dark leafy greens — but if you’re sick of salad, this smoothie will do the trick. Spinach is the star in this filling breakfast drink, while banana helps add sweetness and a kick of potassium. Photo and recipe: Chung-Ah Rhee / Damn Delicious
3. Roasted Salmon with Cucumber Dill Yogurt
This Mediterranean diet staple is popular among Nordic dieters, too. An amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can also help lower your triglyceride levels (a fat found in your blood that can contribute to heart disease). Photo and recipe: Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn
4. Root Vegetable Red Lentil Stew
Winter is the perfect time to tuck into a flavorful stew. Loaded with root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, and sweet potatoes, this stomach-filler is chock-full of lentils for added fiber and protein. Make a large batch and freeze the leftovers to stay stocked throughout the frigid winter months. Photo and recipe: Renee Blair / Life by DailyBurn
5. Blood Orange, Beet, and Fennel Salad
How’s this for a diet-friendly meal that’s still pretty enough to serve at a party? Beets are a root vegetable rich in phytochemicals — an antioxidant that fights free radicals in the body. Combined with the citrus-taste from blood oranges, this makes for a meal that looks and tastes delightfully complex — but is actually easy to make. Photo and recipe: Alyssa Longobucco / The Glossy Life
6. Crisp Kale and Brussels Sprouts Tacos with Avocado
We’re pretty sure the Vikings never chowed down on tacos, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Kale is the darling of the health food world for a reason; it offers 1,328 percent of your daily-recommended vitamin K and 354 percent of your vitamin A, both of which contribute to eye health. The fiber in Brussels sprouts, another cruciferous veggie, helps boost these powerhouse tacos to a whole new level of healthy. Photo and recipe: Jodi Moreno / What’s Cooking Good Looking
7. Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries with Barley
This recipe combines three Nordic Diet mainstays for one delicious result. You already knew Brussels sprouts and cranberries can do your body good, and barley adds even more to the equation. A whole grain and newcomer to most people’s pantries, barley may help keep your blood sugar from spiking. Photo and recipe: Kate Taylor / Cookie and Kate
8. Dandelion Greens with Mustard Vinaigrette
Nordic die-hards love the concept of eating foraged foods — as in, gathering wild foods when possible, instead of using the store-bought versions. But if you’re not lucky enough to have access to your own meadow of wild-grown dandelion greens for this recipe, you can pick them up at the market instead (we won’t tell anyone). Photo and recipe: Meredith Steele / In Sock Monkey Slippers
9. Meaty Bison and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers
Wild game, like bison, may seem “out there” in comparison to beef, but it’s a great lean substitute for fatty forms of red meat. Paired with faro, an increasingly popular whole grain, this recipe makes for a hearty and guilt-free dinner that still feels indulgent. Photo and recipe: Liz Della Croce / The Lemon Bowl