Scandinavians, Diet of | (2024)

Scandinavia is a peninsula in northern Europe that is occupied by Norway and Sweden. Denmark is also generally considered to be part of Scandinavia because of its historical, political, and cultural ties to Norway and Sweden. These three countries are also part of the Nordic countries, which also include Finland and Iceland. With the exception of Denmark and Iceland, these countries are located north of the Baltic and North Seas and share common borders with each other and Russia. All of these countries are part of the Nordic Council. The Nordic countries have historical and cultural ties, and during the Viking era they had a common language and religion. They are also predominantly Protestant countries.

Nutrition and Health Status

There is a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease , stroke , hypertension ) in this area, mainly due to the high intake of saturated fats, cholesterol , and sodium. Stomach cancer is also very common due to the high intake of salt and salt-cured foods, especially salted fish. Accidental injuries are the largest cause of death for individuals under forty-five years of age. Suicide and alcoholism are also prevalent, and obesity is on the rise.

Food-borne diseases such as tularemia are endemic in the Scandinavian region. These diseases are transmitted through the handling of undercooked, infected meat. "Mad cow disease" was also identified in cows in this region, and an outbreak of human Salmonella infections in the summer of 2000 was traced to hedgehogs.

Eating Habits and Dietary Patterns

The descendants of the Vikings continue to eat many of the foods of their ancestors, and they often prepare them in the same way. Preserved food are very common and include dried, smoked, salted, or pickled fish; dried fruits and jams; and fermented milk. Fresh fruits and vegetables are only available for a few months a year and are dried and stored for the fall and winter months. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries abound in the summer. Potatoes are an important staple of the diet and are served in a variety ofways, including as pancakes. Other staples include fish, seafood, mutton, cheese, cabbage, apples, onions, berries, nuts, and bread. Bread is often made with rye, and both leaven and unleavened varieties are common.

Scandinavians eat simple, hearty meals. They generally eat three meals a day, plus a coffee break. Breakfast is light and usually includes bread or oatmeal porridge, fruit, eggs, cheese, herring, or potatoes. Fruit soup is a popular breakfast item in the winter and is topped with cream and served with bread and cheese.

Smorgasbords (bread and butter buffet tables) are popular at lunch in Scandinavia. In Denmark, open-faced sandwiches are made from the buffet table and eaten with a knife and fork. Buttered bread is topped with items such as sausage, herring, smoked salmon, boiled potatoes, cheese, and tomatoes. Such sandwiches are also served as a late-afternoon or bedtime snack. In Sweden, the buffet table offers a large variety of both hot and cold dishes. The Swedes eat herring first, followed by other fish dishes. Meats, salads, and hot dishes then follow (in that order), and dessert is eaten last. Dinner usually has several courses, including appetizer, soup, entrée, vegetables, and dessert. Pea soups served with pancakes are popular dinner items in the winter.

Desserts are rich but not overly sweet. Popular desserts include pancakes with preserves, fruit pies, and pastries. Danes are internationally known for their pastries, and Swedes are known for their butter cookies. Beverages served with meal include milk, coffee, tea, beer, schnapps, dry sherry, sweet Madeira, port, or aquavit (water of life). Aquavit (also called akavit, aquavite and akvavit) is an alcoholic beverage made from a grain or potato mash that is double-distilled. The second distillation features the addition of various flavorings such as caraway (most common), cumin, cardamom, lemon peel, aniseed, or fennel. Aquavit is generally not aged, and it is usually drunk straight and chilled, from a small chilled glass. It is a popular drink at smorgasbords.

Dairy products (from cows, goats, and reindeer) are heavily consumed. In addition to drinking milk, Scandanavians also have a high intake of sour cream, buttermilk, and cheese. Cheese is generally served at every meal. Cheese from this region of the world is popular internationally and includes Danish Blue and Havarti from Denmark, Herrgardsost and Svecia from Sweden, and Gammelost and Gjeitost (brown goats cheese) from Norway.

Fish is a major staple in the diet, and Scandinavia is the largest supplier of fish in Europe. The region is one of the largest exporters of dried salt cod in the world. Sweden is famous for its crayfish, Denmark for its oysters, and Norway for its lobsters and prawns. Smoked and cured fish (e.g., herring, mackerel, cod, salmon, and eel) are produced commercially for both the domestic market and for exporting. Cured cod is traditionally prepared for Christmas in Norway and Sweden and served with pork fat and bacon.

Historically, meat was in limited supply, so it was often combined with other ingredients. The famous Swedish meatballs and the Danish fricadeller (patties made of ground beef, lamb, and pork) came out of this tradition. Today, the Scandinavians are hearty meat eaters. Pork is the favorite meat in Denmark, a country that has as many pigs as people. Scandinavians also hunt wild birds, elk, deer, and bear, just as their Viking ancestors did. Even a fewof the more esoteric tastes of the Vikings live on. Norwegians love whale steak and claim that it tastes as good as beef. Smoked horseflesh is also popular with the Swedesthey call it "hamburger" and buy it thinly sliced.

Special Meals

Christmas is a welcome holiday during the long Scandinavian winter. Traditional foods eaten on Christmas Eve are rice porridge, fresh cod, and lutefisk. Rice porridge is served with cinnamon and sugar and has one hidden blanched almond. The person who finds the almond is believed to be blessed with good luck for the following year. Lutefisk is boiled cod (treated in alye solution); it is served with a white sauce, melted butter, green peas, boiled potatoes, and mustard. Christmas Day dinner features ham or pork served with red cabbage or sauerkraut. The Danes usually serve goose on Christmas Day.

In Norway, Christmas festivities begin weeks before the holiday. Most families brew a Christmas beer called juleol. They also cook traditional pork dishes, bake biscuits, cookies, cakes, and julekake, a sweet bread filled with raisins, candied peel, and cardamom. Swedes have a month-long Christmas celebration that begins on December 13, the feast of St. Lucia. Christmas is celebrated on December 24 with rice pudding and ginger cookies. In Denmark, the Christmas feast is held at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Midsummer's Day (June 24) is another popular holiday in Scandinavia. It features maypole dancing, feasting, and bonfires. Fish, such as herring and cured salmon (gravlax ), along with boiled new potatoes are common. In Norway, a cream pudding (rommegrot ) is served with cinnamon and sugar. In Sweden, wild strawberries are eaten.

Delores C. S. JamesRanjita Misra


Haas, Elson M. (1992). Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Press.

Kittler, Pamela G., and Sucher, Kathryn P. (2001). Food and Culture, 3rd edition. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Ojakangas, Beatrice (2001). Scandinavian Feasts: Celebrating Traditions throughout the Year. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Internet Resources

"Explore Denmark." Available from <>

World Health Organization (2000). "Disease Outbreaks." Available from <>

Scandinavians, Diet of | (2024)


Scandinavians, Diet of | ›

Other staples include fish, seafood, mutton, cheese, cabbage, apples, onions, berries, nuts, and bread. Bread is often made with rye, and both leaven and unleavened varieties are common. Scandinavians

Nordic people may refer to: People who are inhabiting the Nordic countries. North Germanic peoples or Scandinavians, a group of related ethnic groups originating in the Nordic countries. Nordic race, a historical race concept largely covering populations of Northern Europe. › wiki › Nordic_people
eat simple, hearty meals. They generally eat three meals a day, plus a coffee break.

What kind of food do Scandinavians eat? ›

Generally, though, this is a hearty cuisine based on fresh, local ingredients. While Scandinavian cuisine comes with plenty of traditional dishes that immediately spring to mind—gravlax, cinnamon buns, waffles, reindeer, and aquavit—there's a sophisticated food movement now in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

What is the Swedish heritage diet? ›

The Swedish diet is very varied with a healthy mix of whole grains, lean protein (lots of fish but also game), a focus on vegetables, berries, fermented dairy – all things that have been hailed as part of the healthy Nordic Diet.

Why are Scandinavians so healthy? ›

The Nordic diet is often compared to the Mediterranean diet because it has similar aspects. This diet places an emphasis on seasonal vegetables, unprocessed food, seafood as well as whole grains. Local foods such as fish and reindeer meat are a big staple.

What did my Scandinavian ancestors eat? ›

Aside from the vegetarian diet, Scandinavians took full advantage of the rivers, streams, and the sea. Fish from fresh and salt water as well as eels, squid, seals, walruses, and whales were eaten frequently. Seafood could be preserved through drying or fermenting in brine and remained fresh as a staple food.

What is a typical Scandinavian breakfast? ›

An open-faced sandwich is a very common Scandinavian breakfast. It can be as simple as a piece of rye bread with butter and a slice of cheese, or you can spruce it up a bit with toppings like cucumber, apples, sliced egg, or bell pepper. Chopped chives or dill are never a bad idea.

Do Scandinavians eat eggs? ›

Scandinavians eat simple, hearty meals. They generally eat three meals a day, plus a coffee break. Breakfast is light and usually includes bread or oatmeal porridge, fruit, eggs, cheese, herring, or potatoes.

What vegetables do Scandinavians eat? ›

Nordic vegetables are cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, roots and peas. Fish varieties include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and dried salty cod. Fruits do not grow abundantly in the region; therefore, berries tend to be the primary source of fruit.

What is the main source of protein in Sweden? ›

Grains are the main source of protein in all countries except Argentina, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States (where it is meat) and Ireland and Sweden (where dairy products are more important).

What do Swedish people eat the most? ›

Swedish cuisine could be described as centered around cultured dairy products, crisp and soft (often sugared) breads, berries and stone fruits, beef, chicken, lamb, pork, eggs, and seafood. Potatoes are often served as a side dish, often boiled.

Why are Scandinavians so slim? ›

As well as incorporating the right foods, the Scandinavian style of eating is also important. They eat little and often, grazing on small portions of food throughout the day.

Why do Scandinavians have great skin? ›

Many women from Nordic countries explain that the secret to their complexion is a love of the great outdoors. Those who live in Scandinavian countries traditionally spend a lot more time outside than their British counterparts and its believed that the fresh air and exercise plays a part in their healthy appearance.

Do Scandinavians have a long lifespan? ›

All Nordic countries exceeded the global life expectancy; in 2017, the highest life expectancy was in Iceland among females (85.9 years [95% uncertainty interval [UI] 85.5–86.4] vs 75.6 years [75.3–75.9] globally) and Sweden among males (80.8 years [80.2–81.4] vs 70.5 years [70.1–70.8] globally).

What do Vikings eat for breakfast? ›

Typical Viking Meals

Dagmal was the morning meal in which the adults would eat leftover stew from the night before with bread and fruit. The children would usually have porridge and dried fruit or, on occasion, buttermilk and bread.

How many meals do Norwegians eat a day? ›

Most Norwegians eat three or four regular meals a day, usually consisting of a cold breakfast with coffee, a cold (usually packed) lunch at work and a hot dinner at home with the family.

What fruits do Scandinavians eat? ›

In the forests and plains grow blueberries, wild strawberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, rowanberries, elderberries and many more. Some are eaten fresh with milk or cream, other turned into homemade marmalade, jam or fruit syrup to be savoured during the cold season.

What are the three main cuisines of Scandinavia? ›

Cuisines of Scandinavia The three main cuisines of Scandinavia are the Norwegian, the Danish and the Swedish. 16. 1. Norwegian – • the cuisine is characterized by a sense of practicality and economy.

What is the average Scandinavian diet? ›

You'll eat mostly plant-based, seasonal foods that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Think fruits (especially berries), vegetables and seafood. One difference, though, is the type of oil each diet uses.

What is Sweden's most common food? ›

Swedish cuisine could be described as centered around cultured dairy products, crisp and soft (often sugared) breads, berries and stone fruits, beef, chicken, lamb, pork, eggs, and seafood. Potatoes are often served as a side dish, often boiled.

What is the most common Viking food? ›

Meat, fish, vegetables, cereals and milk products were all an important part of their diet. Sweet food was consumed in the form of berries, fruit and honey. In England the Vikings were often described as gluttonous.

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