Nordic Diet: Good Or Bad For Weight Loss

Good food choices dictate good health. And health is wealth.  The term ‘diet’ is generally associated with weight loss and management. However some diets are a means of shifting towards healthy food choices and lifestyle.

Such diets are beyond weight loss goals; they are means of getting fitter. One such diet is Nordic diet.

What is the Nordic diet?

The Nordic diet  or New Nordic diet is based on traditional Nordic foods and is a characteristic of the diet followed in countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland etc.

It is similar to healthy diets such as DASH and Mediterranean diet.

nordic diet image 1The main source of fat in this diet is canola oil for dressing and cooking. It has a high content of polyunsaturated fats and it affects lipid profile in a favourable manner like olive oil.

Vegetable low fat spread and vegetable liquid margarine obtained from sunflower oil, linseed oil and canola oil can also be used in Nordic diet.

Fish intake includes fatty fish like Baltic herring, herring, salmon and mackerel etc and serving size is around 68 g per day. Cereals include whole grain products from rye, oats and wheat.

Fruits, vegetables and tuber vegetables are included in high proportion.

Low fat dairy products like milk, fermented milk, yogurt and cheese are also included in the diet. Eggs, beef, pork, lamb, reindeer, chicken and turkey constitute the animal protein sources of the diet. However these food groups are consumed in low proportion.

Nuts, legumes along with reduced amounts of tea, coffee, alcohol beverages and healthy desserts are permitted. Herbs and spices are a must in Nordic cooking and salt when used is low in sodium content.

Low temperature and low fat cooking methods are recommended in preparation of dishes in the Nordic diet. Overall the diet is abundant in vitamins and minerals.

Here is a quick recap of what you can eat when following the Nordic diet

S. No Food Group Food Items
1. Fruits, berries, vegetables Blueberry, lingonberry, apple, pear, prune, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, fennel, spinach, onion, leek, kale, sugar peas, turnip, carrot, parsnip, beetroot
2. Potatoes Mainly boiled
3. Nuts Mainly almonds
4. Legumes Brown beans, yellow and green peas
5. Meat and poultry Beef, pork, lamb, reindeer and sausage, chicken and turkey
6. Dairy products Low fat milk, fermented milk, cheese (less than 17 percent)
7. Fish Herring, mackerel, salmon, and a selection of white fish
8. Eggs Cooked
9. Cereals and seeds Whole grain rye and wheat breads low in sodium. Oat bran rusks, muesli, oatmeal, barley flakes, whole grain pastas, pearled barley and oat instead of rice. Seeds such as linseed, psyllium and sunflower seeds
10. Fats and oil Vegetable oils such as sunflower, linseed and rapeseed oil; vegetable low fat spread and vegetable liquid margarine
11. Herbs, spices and beverages Parsley, dill, mustard, horseradish, vinaigrette, all spices, soy sauce, oat-based non-dairy creamer, potato starch, yeast, low sodium salt, tea, coffee, fruit or vegetable juices

Source: Adamsson et al, What is a healthy Nordic diet? Foods and nutrients in the NORDIET study, Food Nutr Res. 2012; 56

What are the health effects associated with different food groups included in the Nordic diet?

Nordic diet just as Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of developing heart diseases.  Different food groups included in the Nordic diet bring about great health benefits.

  • Potatoes and berries:  Both of these sources are rich in sugars and starches but their link with development of heart diseases and type 2 diabetes is weak.
  • Whole grain products: Whole grain consumption is associated with decrease in heart disease risk factors. Higher whole grain intake is probably linked with reduced risk of diabetes.
  • Milk & Dairy products: No link between consumption of this food group and development of heart disease was found. However a weak link between development of prostate cancer and high consumption of milk and dairy products was found.
  • Red and processed meat: Mixed evidence is available regarding colon cancer and consumption of red meat and processed meat.

More details on these findings are available in the research paper which you can access here.  Overall the researchers feel that most of the food groups of Nordic diet contribute to good health and are protective in case of metabolic diseases but they also mention the need for more high quality studies.

nordic diet featured

Principles of the Nordic diet

The Nordic diet is based on traditional Nordic ingredients and this diet has been developed by scientists and chefs keeping in mind nutrition and its effect on the environment. Their prime principle is to obtain healthy nutrition while keeping the environment sustainable.

Here is the list of 10 core principles of Nordic diet as laid down by the creators of this diet :

  • More fruit and vegetables every day (lots more: berries, cabbages, root vegetables, legumes, potatoes and herbs)
  • More whole grain, especially oats, rye and barley
  • More food from the seas and lakes
  • Higher-quality meat, but less of it
  • More food from wild landscapes
  • Organic produce whenever possible
  • Avoid food additives
  • More meals based on seasonal produce
  • More home-cooked food
  • Less waste

What does science have to say about role of Nordic diet in weight loss?

There are not many studies focussed only on weight loss and Nordic diet; most studies concentrate on Nordic diet’s health benefits.

Health effect of the New Nordic Diet in adults with increased waist circumference: a 6-mo randomized controlled trial

Researchers at University of Copenhagen, Denmark conducted a 6 month study to investigate the effects of New Nordic Diet on body weight.

181 individuals with abdominal obesity were recruited for the study and were assigned to have either New Nordic diet or average Danish diet.

The New Nordic diet was rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish.  At the end of 6 months weight loss was around 4.7 kg for New Nordic diet and 1.5 kg for Danish diet. Greater reduction in waist circumference was also observed in the New Nordic diet group.

An additional observation that was made was that New Nordic diet brought about reduction in blood pressure.

Long-term adherence to the New Nordic Diet and the effects on body weight, anthropometry and blood pressure: a 12-month follow-up study

Having received such promising results from the above mentioned study, a further 12 month follow up study was conducted.

This time weight lost was 6.2kg and 3kg with regains of 4.6kg and 1.1 kg in New Nordic diet and Danish diet respectively.

Satisfaction was higher for New Nordic diet and higher adherence to this diet as well as increased physical activity was associated with decreased weight regain.

Effects of a healthy Nordic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolaemic subjects: a randomized controlled trial (NORDIET)

A clinical trial  was conducted with the aim to assess the effect of Nordic diet on risk factors causing heart disease. The study lasted for 6 weeks and the Nordic diet was compared to Western diet.

A decrease in cholesterol levels was observed. Body weight decreased by 4% in the group assigned Nordic diet. Slight positive changes in insulin sensitivity and blood pressure were observed.

What does this mean?
Limited evidence is available regarding Nordic diet’s effect on weight loss but each of the studies present moderate and positive weight loss outcomes.

Health benefits of Nordic diet

As I mentioned in the beginning, Nordic diet goes beyond weight loss. Weight loss with this diet is a result of avoiding processed foods. Nordic diet is found to be beneficial for following conditions:

  • Reduces blood pressure in metabolic syndrome
  • Improves physical performance in old age
  • Reduces the expression of inflammation causing genes in metabolic syndrome
  • Improves blood lipid profile and cholesterol in metabolic syndrome

Conclusion

Nordic diet is a compilation of the healthiest foods. Also it is environmentally and economically advantageous.  It is a great option for those who want try the Mediterranean diet (Read: Mediterranean Diet & Obesity: The Scientific Truth) but don’t like to use olive oil because the Nordic diet focuses on use of canola oil.

It is not a typical diet for immediate weight loss but definitely weight loss can occur as a result of eating organic food and avoiding processed food in this diet.

I would recommend Nordic diet for weight management once you have achieved your weight loss goal assuming you are not sensitive to weight gain from carbs.

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