The Nordic diet: Fad or lifestyle?

If you pay attention to food trends, you’ve probably heard of the Nordic diet.

And since it has the word “diet” in the name, you might expect me to write it off. 

But this is one of the rare eating approaches I can get behind — with caveats…  

What is the Nordic diet

As you might guess, the diet is based on the way people in Scandinavia have been eating for years. So while the Nordic diet highlights more lingonberries and fewer olives, the premise is the same: Similar to the Mediterranean diet (my other endorsed method of eating), the Nordic diet is all about eating local, seasonal, mostly plant-based whole foods.

In fact, the biggest difference between the two diets may be the go-to oil, the Nordic diet relies on canola oil, whereas the Mediterranean focuses on olive oil. Both are high in healthier unsaturated fat.

But here’s my big caveat –- conventional canola oil is extracted using a process that can reduce the overall health properties of the oil while leaving unhealthy chemical residues behind. Always look for versions that are “cold pressed”, which means the oil is extracted from seeds using pressure only.

Both the Mediterranean and Nordic approaches de-emphasize meat, but the Nordic diet allows for some game meat (venison, rabbit, bison).

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How should you adapt to this diet if you live in the U.S.?

You could transfer the principles to your local area. For me, in Minnesota, that means more Nordic and less Mediterranean (yes, I can occasionally find lingonberries at my grocery store!) If you’re in California, you can take advantage of year-round produce. If you’re in Maine, load up on those beautiful blueberries and have some lobster from time to time.

Wherever you live, if you eat lots of local produce and cut down on meat, you’ll likely naturally follow the tenets of the Nordic diet. Expect to eat lots of:

  • Whole grains, including rye, barley and oats
  • Whole fruits (not just the juice)
  • Vegetables, including root veggies
  • Fatty fish
  • Low-fat dairy, such as yogurt
  • Legumes

And while they may be prevalent in Nordic countries, you should still consume eggs and game meat in moderation — and alcohol and other red meats only rarely.  And always avoid added sugar, processed meat, foods high in sodium, and fast food (yes, they do have McDonald’s in Sweden, and no, it does not count as local or Nordic.)

According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating the Nordic way should add up to way less sugar than you’d get on a typical American diet, and about twice the fiber and seafood. You’ll reap lots of heart-healthy benefits, too, including reduced inflammation, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and maintenance of a healthy weight

Best of all, this isn’t a diet that you need to make a resolution to follow. In fact, the Nordic diet and the Mediterranean diet aren’t really diets at all. They’re lifestyles, which is why you probably won’t fail when you adopt them.

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Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

By Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

"Diet is a major driver of high cholesterol, but instead of changing the food, we prescribe medications. This never seemed logical to me.” Dr. Klodas has dedicated her career to preventive cardiology. Trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, she is the founder and Chief Medical Officer for Step One Foods. Dr. Klodas is a nationally sought out speaker and has an active role at the American College of Cardiology. Her clinical interests include prevention of heart disease and non-invasive cardiac imaging and she has published dozens of scientific articles throughout her career. Dr. Klodas has been featured on CNN Health for her mission to change how heart disease is treated. An independent study performed at leading medical institutions affirmed the ability of Step One Foods to deliver measurable and meaningful cholesterol-reduction benefits in the real world. The results of the trial were presented at the 2018 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions. Dr. Klodas has also authored a book for patients, "Slay the Giant: The Power of Prevention in Defeating Heart Disease," and served as founding Editor-in-Chief of the patient education effort of the American College of Cardiology. In addition to her practice and her duties at Step One Foods, she also serves as medical editor for webMD.