Health

Ready to Try the Nordic Diet? Nutritionists Suggest One Important Tweak.

The Nordic diet emphasizes eating whole grains, in-season fruits and vegetables, and fish. Adding olive oil can make the diet more flavorful and replace canola oil as the traditional cooking fat.

Aug. 23, 2019
By Matthew Cortina

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For those on the Mediterranean diet who are look­ing for a few new dishes or want to try some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent alto­gether, look north — way north — to Scandinavia and its Nordic diet.

“The Mediterranean and Nordic diets are based on adopt­ing a healthy lifestyle rather than fol­low­ing a restric­tive diet ‘plan’ and revolve around sea­sonal, sus­tain­able and locally sourced foods of their respec­tive regions,” said Layne Lieberman, a reg­is­tered dieti­cian and author of Beyond the Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets of the Super-Healthy. “Both are plant-based, pescatar­ian focused and empha­size a vari­ety of health­ful and whole­some food choices.”

We have far more research about the health-pro­tec­tive ben­e­fits of extra virgin olive oil com­pared to canola, and its pro­duc­tion is more straight­for­ward.- Cynthia Sass, per­for­mance nutri­tion­ist

The Nordic diet was cre­ated by a group of health and sus­tain­abil­ity-minded chefs in 2004, with an eye toward con­sum­ing whole foods sourced locally, thus sup­port­ing healthy bodies and the envi­ron­ment. The diet empha­sizes “hearty and dense whole grains, legumes, sea­sonal, organic and for­aged veg­eta­bles and fruits, fish from oceans and lakes, mod­er­ate amounts of qual­ity meat, low-fat dairy and eggs, and less processed and sugary foods,” Lieberman said.

Berries, omega-3-fatty fish, lentils and other high-fiber foods, and grains such as oats, rye and barley fea­ture heav­ily in the Nordic diet.

See more: Olive Oil Health News

However, there is a pesky oil in the Nordic diet: canola oil. It thrives in cooler cli­mates, which is why it is the default oil for the local­ity-focused Nords. But switch­ing in olive oil for raw and cook­ing pur­poses can help boost the diet’s health ben­e­fits, accord­ing to Cynthia Sass, a Los Angeles-based per­for­mance nutri­tion­ist.

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“We have far more research about the health-pro­tec­tive ben­e­fits of extra virgin olive oil com­pared to canola, and its pro­duc­tion is more straight­for­ward,” Sass said.

Lieberman said both oils are high in heart-healthy monoun­sat­u­rated fats, but that canola oil can be highly processed.

Besides the health ben­e­fits, swap­ping in olive oil for canola oil in Nordic diet meals can also boost flavor.

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“Fresh [extra virgin] olive oil is more fla­vor­ful than canola oil. I love to use it spar­ingly over salads, cooked pasta, steamed veg­eta­bles and seafood,” Lieberman said.

She added that olive oil can be used as a mari­nade or as a butter replace­ment, regard­less of the diet, in baked goods.

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Sass echoed the sen­ti­ment that olive oil can be a good replace­ment when cook­ing Nordic diet items, adding that it is a good fat for roast­ing root veg­eta­bles or cook­ing red cab­bage.

Compared to the Mediterranean diet, which has under­gone exten­sive research since its pop­u­lar­iza­tion in the mid-20th cen­tury, there are fewer stud­ies on the Nordic diet. However, the World Health Organization found in a recent survey of local­ity-based diets that the reg­i­men “has been shown to pro­mote car­dio­vas­cu­lar health” and “pro­duce weight loss” in people cat­e­go­rized as obese.

As a final point, Lieberman said any diet, whether it is Mediterranean, Nordic or some­thing else, needs to be fol­lowed in con­cert with an active lifestyle. Given that, prac­ti­tion­ers of the Nordic diet out­side Scandinavia can take a few cues from the pop­u­la­tion there.

“An active lifestyle is essen­tial to the suc­cess of both the Mediterranean and Nordic diets,” she said. “People of the Nordic region bicy­cle as a means of trans­porta­tion, even during the freez­ing-cold winter months, use public trans­porta­tion, walk every­where (even in the rain) and enjoy skiing and other sports.”

Because the Nordic diet has such a focus on sourc­ing local foods, both for their health and envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, Lieberman said people who live in colder cli­mates might have easier access to foods fea­tured in the diet: root veg­eta­bles, cab­bage and sauer­kraut. For those in warmer cli­mates, a blend of Nordic and Mediterranean diet foods might be worth exper­i­ment­ing with.