Why doctors, dietitians and even psychiatrists like the Nordic diet (2024)

It’s difficult if not impossible to define an “American” diet. The U.S is so diverse, so multicultural and so successful at importing foods from elsewhere; and yet one thing remains sadly true on a general level: we’re not terribly healthy. As a nation we consume too much of the bad stuff (added sugars, saturated fats and sodium) and not enough of the good stuff (vegetables, fruits, dairy and healthy oils). Obesity rates continue to rise, not only among adults, but also among our children.

To fix the problem on an individual level, many of us have started embracing the sensible eating styles of other cultures. The Mediterranean diet, famous for its outstanding health benefits (including possibly keeping your brain young), was named the best overall diet for 2018 by U.S. News & World Report (a tie with the DASH diet). Now there’s another regional diet catching our appetites: the Nordic diet, and it’s highly recommended by dietitians and doctors.

What makes it so special and how can we incorporate it into our daily lives?

The Nordic Diet: Fish, Veggies, Grains, Fermented Foods and Wine

“The Nordic diet is rooted in tradition back to the Vikings and is comprised of natural fresh foods consumed by residents of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland,” explains Dr. Luiza Petre, a cardiologist and nutrition and weight loss expert. “It consists of high amounts of nutrient rich, single foods with vegetables being the corner stone of this diet, and meats only filling the left over space. 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. The grains allowed are the Nordic type of rye, wholegrain, barley and oats. Fermented fish and dairy add to the epicurean experience. Plenty of hydration is encouraged, whereas red meat, processed foods, added sugars and refined foods are to be avoided. Wine sits on the top of the pyramid.”

“Eating local foods is emphasized which could be a main reason why its popularity has increased in recent years, making it a sustainable diet,” Dr. Petre adds. “Savory flavors and fermented food with spices make it a culinary experience.”

Red Meat: Gamy and lean

While the Nordic diet emphasizes seafood, it does incorporate red meats to an extent.

“Definitely some beef dishes, but also game meats that we don’t eat as much of here,” Jamie Shifley, a registered dietitian and health coach. “You may see larger animals like caribou, bison (which I’ve found ground at Costco and think tastes really good) but also deer, or venison, which tends to be much leaner than beef because although red meat, the animal hasn’t been raised to be fatty the way we raise cows here.”

Eat Your Heart Out (And Keep Your Heart Healthy)

As a cardiologist, Dr. Petre recommends the Nordic diet for the same reasons she recommends the Mediterranean diet.

“The Nordic diet is rich in healthy unsaturated fats and fiber, with low amounts of sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods,” Petre says. “In many ways it is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is shown to help prevent heart disease. Both diets are high in Omega-3s which lower blood pressure, increase good cholesterol, reduce bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes. Additionally, they are associated with lowering the risk of cancer and improving inflammation and overall cardiac health. A 2013 Nordic study found that individuals on the diet experienced improved blood lipids and inflammation.”

Fiber and probiotics combat digestive issues and obesity

Shifley also champions the diet, noting its staples as beneficial for long-term health.

“Much research shows the benefits of consuming fatty fish, as well as lean fish [both integral to the diet, which] also includes dried fruits and whole grains as staples,” Shifley says. “These foods include many essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals), as well as fiber, which can help with satiety, lowering cholesterol, blood sugar control and potentially with lowering risk of colon cancer.”

Additionally, fermented foods, another aspect of this diet, are great for gut health, as they “contain good bacteria (probiotics) that can help populate our guts and may provide protection again many conditions including obesity, digestive issues, diabetes, and more.”

Potatoes made the right way, and a low-profile superfood: cabbage

The types of root vegetables (potatoes, rutabagas and carrots, for instance) that the Nordic diet uses are also packed with nutrients.

“Potatoes get a bad rap [in America] because we do a lot of fried potatoes,” says Shifley. “But in the Nordic diet they’re usually baked, grilled or boiled. They’re loaded with potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B and some iron and magnesium. They do have a lot of carbs but also fiber which helps damper the affect of carbs on blood sugar; that said, people with diabetes do need to be a bit more careful with potatoes.”

Cabbage is another cornerstone of the Nordic diet, a leafy green that is an excellent source of nutrients.

“Cabbage has similar benefits to kale,” says Shifley. “It’s a cruciferous vegetable — very leafy — and very low in calories and high in fiber so it will help fill you up when want to control calories. It’s high in vitamins K, C, and B as well as in several antioxidants, particularly those high in sulphur, which may help lower the risks of certain types of cancer such as esophageal cancer.”

Canola oil is a Nordic staple, but is it so different than olive oil?

One of the core cooking ingredients in the Nordic Diet is canola oil, marking one of its biggest differences from the Mediterranean diet, which incorporates olive oil.

“This has been a source of concern, as olive oil has a better Omega-3 profile and contains more antioxidants and polyphenols found in olives,” says Dr. Petre.

You could certainly swap out canola oil for olive oil, but Shifley notes that the latter does have less of a taste, making it more appealing to cook with when you’re making something that doesn’t naturally pair with that distinct olive flavor. Additionally, while canola oil is a bit weaker in some nutritional aspects, the dissimilarities are far from significant.

“They’re both calorie dense unsaturated fats, which helps keep down the bad cholesterol, LDL, and also gives a boost to the HDL, the good cholesterol that acts like a vaccuum [in the body], grabbing the fatty buildup and flushing it out of body,” Shifley says.

Not up for herring? Swap it out with salmon

Just as you can replace the canola oil with olive oil (provided you don’t mind the flavor), you can also use a fish like salmon to replace say, herring or mackerel, which are both very common in the Nordic diet but less popular here. The most important thing to look for when shopping for fish is to check for freshness. You may also want to find out where the fish was sourced.

“When you go to the fish market at your grocery store, talk to the person at the counter who knows where the fish came from. This is one thing we can all be better at when shopping for fish,” says Samantha Bartholomew, a registered dietitian and the manager of nutrition communications at Fresh Communications. “Aside from that, I don't think you can go wrong with the fish you choose.”

But will it help me be happier?

We may be changing up our eating habits to slim down or get more energy or simply to try something new — but we’re also often seeking something deeper from our diets: wellbeing.

Might embracing the Nordic diet help boost our happiness? The answer is, quite possibly yes — but only insofar as any sensible, balanced diet can.

“The important key in looking at these diets, whether it’s the Mediterranean, DASH or Nordic, is the emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and more fish over meat,” Dr. Prakash Masand M.D., the founder of Centers of Psychiatric Excellence (COPE) tells NBC News BETTER. “With these food groups we see lower rates of obesity, which we know to be a driving force in medical illness including psychiatric ones such as depression.”

Dr. Masand finds that there tends to be a bit of idealizing and even “fantasizing” about the happiness of other cultures such as the Nordic one here in America, and underscores that no diet in and of itself can turn a sad person happy; that said, diet is one of the first thing he asks about when assessing the psychological health of a client.

“The three pillars of good mental health are sleep, exercise and diet,” he says. “But if you want someone to adhere to a good diet it has to be one that fits into what they usually love to eat. If you say ‘oh, switch entirely to the Nordic diet,’ it’s just not going to happen. But if you say, ‘hey, add some more fish and less red meat’ — that’s reasonable.”

Quick tips for embracing the Nordic diet

As Dr. Masand notes, making a 100 percent switchover to another culture’s diet doesn’t make much sense for most people. But there are simple ways to incorporate aspects of this eating regimen in your everyday life.

Aside from piling on the seafood, vegetables, and fermented foods Shifley says you’ll also want to:

  • Reach for quality snacks. “Tree nuts are a great [Nordic-style] snack. Of course, berries are also big as are pickled vegetables — not just cucumbers but all kinds. Rye crackers are another good one.”
  • Go easy on the red meats as well as any processed carbohydrates. “You won’t see white breads or pastas in this diet.”
  • Avoid processed foods. “This is really the key. No chips or cookies.” Unless, of course, you’re up for an occasional splurge. If you do, enjoy it and then make a healthier choice the next meal.


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Why doctors, dietitians and even psychiatrists like the Nordic diet (2024)


Why doctors, dietitians and even psychiatrists like the Nordic diet? ›

“The Nordic diet is rich in healthy unsaturated fats and fiber, with low amounts of sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods,” Petre says. “In many ways it is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is shown to help prevent heart disease.

Why is the Nordic diet good? ›

The ND is rich in vegetables and fruits which are the main sources of nutritious components such as minerals, natural antioxidants, vitamins, and dietary fibers (58, 59). These components have multiple beneficial effects in preventing and improving several chronic disorders.

What diet do doctors recommend the most? ›

The diet, high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and nuts, is associated with a wide range of health benefits, from reducing the risk of heart disease to cancer. “One of the best things you can do for your heart is follow the Mediterranean diet,” says Dr.

In what ways might the Nordic diet be considered eco-friendly? ›

The Nordic diet offers an added bonus: it's environmentally friendly. For one thing, plant-based diets use fewer natural resources (such as water and fossil fuels) and create less pollution than meat-heavy diets.

What are the nutrition and health habits of the Nordic culture? ›

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.

Are eggs part of Nordic diet? ›

The Nordic diet emphasizes traditional, sustainable, and locally sourced foods, with a heavy focus on those considered healthy. Eat in moderation: game meats, free-range eggs, cheese, and yogurt.

What foods should I avoid to reduce inflammation? ›

Foods that can be inflammatory: Highly processed foods, like corn chips, fried foods and too much red meat, sugar, wheat, rye and barley in people with gluten allergies of celiac disease.

What is considered the healthiest diet in the world? ›

Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet, and MIND Diets Are the Best Diets of 2024. All three diets are highly recommended by doctors because of their known health benefits. “The Mediterranean eating plan doesn't have a set calorie range or portion guidelines, which is why it can fit almost anyone's needs.

How did Kelly Clarkson lose weight? ›

Walking, eating a healthy mix of foods, and enjoying occasional treats are among some of the methods she's used to shed pounds. The singer also says she uses infrared saunas and cold plunges. “Walking in the city is quite the workout.

What is the #1 best food for your heart says a cardiologist? ›

“A good example of a heart-healthy diet is the DASH diet. The DASH diet promotes eating healthy foods such as whole grains, lean protein, fruits, veggies, and low-fat dairy. While reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened foods, whole dairy foods, and saturated fats,” explained Dr. Bhusri.

What is the new Nordic diet? ›

The Nordic diet is a mostly plant-based eating pattern, which encourages consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The diet also includes seafood, canola oil and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as skyr. Meanwhile, red meat and processed meats, butter and sweets should be limited.

What is the pyramid of the Nordic diet? ›

The pyramid contains ten food groups: (i) Nordic vegetables (tomato, cucumber, leafy vegetables, roots, cabbages, legumes); (ii) Nordic fruits (apples, pears, and berries); (iii) Nordic wholegrain cereals (rye, oats and barley); (iv) potatoes; (v) low-fat and fat-free milk products; (vi) Nordic fish ...

What is the core food of the Scandinavian diet? ›

The ND diet is based on traditional foods consumed in the Nordic region (Northern Europe), and includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, low fat dairy, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring) oats, barley, and almonds [36,37].

Which Nordic country is the healthiest? ›

  • Sweden. #1 in Health-conscious. #3 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Norway. #2 in Health-conscious. #11 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Denmark. #3 in Health-conscious. ...
  • Switzerland. #4 in Health-conscious. ...
  • Finland. #5 in Health-conscious. ...
  • Japan. #6 in Health-conscious. ...
  • Netherlands. #7 in Health-conscious. ...
  • Canada. #8 in Health-conscious.

What are root vegetables on the Nordic diet? ›

Foods to eat

Vegetables, especially root vegetables like beets, turnips and carrots. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Low-fat dairy like Skyr yogurt.

What was the old Nordic diet? ›

The Vikings needed all the energy that they could get in the form of fat – especially in winter. 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.

What are the benefits of the Viking diet? ›

The Viking diet, rich in proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains, contributed significantly to the overall health and longevity of the Viking people. Their reliance on fresh, natural produce and the minimal use of processed foods provided them with balanced nutrition conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

Why is Scandinavian food so good? ›

Scandinavian food emphasizes simplicity, freshness, and a connection to the land and sea. Dishes often feature ingredients like fish, potatoes, berries, and dairy products, reflecting the resourcefulness of the people who have thrived in this challenging northern environment for generations.

What are the pros of the Nordic countries? ›

What are the advantages of the Nordic model? The Nordic model yields equality and social mobility. Everyone has free access to decent public services, including some of the best education and healthcare in the world, and people appear happy to pay their taxes to make sure that this continues.

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