The Nordic diet may help you lose weight and improve health through a focus on whole, natural foods traditionally eaten by residents of Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.
Relatively new to the diet scene, the Nordic approach became popular in the spring of 2015, with proponents pointing out that the obesity rates in Nordic countries are much lower than in America. (1)
Nearly 2 billion people classified as either overweight or obese worldwide in 2012. (2) If the trend doesn’t change, more than a fifth of children are likely to be obese by the year 2020, which translates to more obese adults in future years. (3)
Several studies have been done on how following a Nordic diet contributes to weight loss, and results indicate significant success in dropping extra weight, as well as modest improvements to other important health markers. (4)
Let’s take a close look at how the Nordic diet works, which foods to eat and avoid, as well as what results you can expect.
What’s On the Nordic Diet
Designed in 2004 by a group of experts including scientists, nutritionists and chefs, the Nordic diet contains double the fiber of the average Western diet, as well as lower amounts of fat and sugar. It also recommends eating twice as much fish and seafood. (5)
The abundance of seafood found in the Nordic diet is a good match for the traditional diet of populations living in those countries, and could be part of the reason the diet helps with weight loss.
Another consideration the creative team included was supporting sustainable farming practices, which is a vital ecological and economic issue worldwide.
The diet has a strong focus on foods usually classified as “healthy” by mainstream nutritional science.
Here are the general guidelines for the Nordic diet.
Foods to eat frequently:
- Fish and seafood
- Low-fat dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits and berries
- Whole grains and rye breads
- Herbs and spices
- Canola oil (rapeseed oil)
Foods to eat moderately:
- Cheese and yogurt
- Free range eggs
- Game meats
Foods to eat rarely:
- Animal fats in any form
- Red meat
Foods to avoid:
- Processed meats like bacon, salami, and hot dogs
- Added sugar
- Fast foods
- Refined foods
- Drinks sweetened with sugar
- Any foods with additives or chemicals
It’s not necessary to count calories on the Nordic diet as long as you follow the food guidelines.
With the exception of canola oil, the plan is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, which uses extra virgin olive oil instead.
Since canola oil is a highly processed oil manufactured with high heat and toxic solvents, you may want to consider whether or not you want to follow this recommendation. Canola oils found on supermarket shelves in American were found to contain up to 4.2% trans fats. (6)
It’s not likely canola oil is traditional in any culture, but this is where the mainstream nutritional values exert their influence.
Since fruit doesn’t grow well in the northern climates, this aspect of the diet may not be particularly traditional either, although berries thrive in cooler areas and may have been included seasonally in historic Nordic diets.
From an environmental prospective, these recommendations make a lot of sense, and critics point out that any diet with refined foods, sugar and chemicals on the “avoid” list generally leads to weight loss.
Health Benefits of the Nordic Diet
The few studies done to date on the weight loss results of subjects following the Nordic diet are promising, especially in view of the fact that there’s no calorie restriction.
In one controlled, six-month trial, comparisons were made between a total of 147 obese participants, some following a typical Danish diet and the others following the Nordic diet.
The Nordic-style eaters lost 10.4 pounds, while the others dropped only 3.3 pounds. But like most other dieters, the big losers gained most of the weight they lost back when dieting over the next year or two. (7)
In another study spanning six weeks, the group eating a Nordic diet reduced body weight by 4%, which was significantly more than the control group eating a standard diet. (8)
Eating a healthy diet should result in a range of beneficial health effects including the prevention of chronic diseases and improvements in metabolic markers. The Nordic diet performs on that level as well.
Obese participants of the six-month trial mentioned above dropped both systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements by moderate amounts (5.1 and 3.3 mmHg, respectively), but changes in blood triglycerides were not statistically significant. The same was true for cholesterol levels. (9)
The effects of the Nordic diet on blood sugar levels were not remarkable, either.
Any diet that reduces inflammation may decrease the chances of developing chronic diseases. (10)
Genes in fat tissue associated with the expression of inflammation were positively impacted by the Nordic diet, which could decrease overall inflammation levels. (11)
The Bottom Line
The Nordic diet is based on whole, natural foods that can be sustainably produced, and this is likely the main reason why people lose weight following it.
More calories are taken from plant foods and less from animal sources, and this concept isn’t particularly revolutionary on the diet scene.
Plant-based diets have been shown to support weight-loss, drop blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases. (12)
Many modern diet recommendations emphasize the consumption of fatty fish, where the Nordic diet encourages eating a wide variety of seafood. (13)
Summary: The Nordic diet is similar to other diets focused on eating whole foods, and can be a good tool for short-term weight loss, as well as having a positive effect on important health markers like blood pressure and inflammation.