It might come as a surprise, but Scandinavia doesn’t subsist off of meatballs and Danish butter cookies. In fact, the region that includes Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland has a centuries-old tradition of eating whole and plant-based foods.
The Nordic or Scandinavian diet refers to a modern style of eating based around these traditional foods. The diet is heavy in complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and light on processed foods, sugar, and red meat. And it also emphasizes choosing food with a smaller environmental footprint.
If you’re curious about what this cold climate’s diet can do for you, and how to get started, grab your Viking helmet (and a fork)! It’s time to dig in.
Ready to dive into a Nordic eating plan? Here’s a sample of what a week on the diet might look like.
- Breakfast: Blueberry almond butter smoothie
- Lunch: Mushroom brown rice pilaf
- Dinner: Salmon with lemon and dill, spinach salad, and a yummy dressing
- Breakfast: Lemon-raspberry baked oatmeal
- Lunch: Farro salad with cauliflower and chickpeas
- Dinner: Baked honey mustard chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, brown rice
- Breakfast: Baked eggs with spinach
- Lunch: Tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread, strawberries
- Dinner: Slow cooker root vegetable stew, multigrain crackers or crisps such as Wasa
- Breakfast: Parfait with low fat skyr, raspberries, and honey
- Lunch: Roasted red pepper pizza on whole-wheat crust
- Dinner: One-pan blackened cod, sweet potatoes, and zucchini
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries
- Lunch: Turkey sandwich on rye, apple
- Dinner: Salmon salad, whole-wheat toast
- Breakfast: Bagel with cream cheese and lox
- Lunch: Egg scramble with avocado and tomatoes, strawberries
- Dinner: Lemon pasta with chicken and peas
Eating like a traditional Scandinavian isn’t just appealing for all the fun Swedish words you’ll learn to pronounce — knäckebröd! räksmörgås! pannkakor! — it’s also loaded with foods that can do wonders for your health.
“Most fat-containing foods contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, both of which have benefits and are vital in our diets,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Jenna Amos, RDN with Siggi’s Icelandic skyr.
Here are some of the ways that eating Nordic may help your health.
It may improve heart health
We can all probably say we’d like to keep a healthy heart. (After all, it is kind of an important organ.) Adopting Scandinavian eating habits — which, notably, is light in red meat — may help attain this goal.
In a study, replacing red meat with high quality plant protein sources — similar to what you find in the Nordic diet — was associated with “favorable changes in blood lipids and lipoproteins,” i.e. it benefited the cardiovascular system.
Another small 2012 study found that the Nordic diet’s whole grain-rich, high fruit and veggie menu might be beneficial for a healthy heart by improving blood pressure and blood lipid markers.
It may reduce inflammation
A research review found that eating a Nordic diet may have a positive effect on inflammation. Which is great news because tons of chronic conditions and health concerns are associated with inflammation.
A 2015 research review showed that to a large extent, diet determines whether your cells are inflamed or chilled out — and a Nordic diet could play an important role.
According to Amos, curbing inflammation may boil down to eating more of the right kind of fat. “The Nordic diet emphasizes foods like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are shown to reduce inflammation, ” says Amos.
Those familiar with the popular Mediterranean diet, will recognize quite a few similarities with the Nordic diet. Which, when you look at the geography of both places, actually makes a lot of sense.
Like the Mediterranean region, Scandinavia has hundreds of miles of coastline, explaining both regions’ love of seafood.
This coastal proximity also makes for milder temperatures and, subsequently, better farming conditions. Which is why you’ll see so many vegetables incorporated into both diets’ cuisines. But the Nordic diet differs from its southern cousin in two significant ways.
They use canola oil instead of olive oil
Where the warm Mediterranean climate practically oozes with olives for oil-making, Scandinavia’s climate doesn’t make for prime olive farming. Instead, Sweden is home to thousands of acres of rapeseed plants — the basis for canola oil.
Note: While canola oil does make the American Heart Association’s list of top better-for-you oils, research found olive oil is the better choice for managing inflammation, according to a 2014 research review.
They focus on the environmental impact
When the modern Nordic diet was developed in 2004, the creators had the environment on their minds. “The Nordic diet has a stronger emphasis on locally sourced and sustainable foods than the Mediterranean diet,” says Amos.
So, when eating Nordic, it’s important to focus on ingredients with the lowest environmental impact, especially plant-based and locally made foods.
You don’t have to have Viking blood to start eating like one! Anyone can dig into this nutrient-dense cuisine. And guess what? You can keep enjoying non-Nordic flavors, too. (We’ll keep our samosas and poke bowls, thanks.)
If you’re looking to scale back inflammation, boost your heart health, and enjoy some new foods along the way, a Nordic diet might be for you.