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

Recent News

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.


“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.


“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.


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.