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.


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.

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