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The Nordic diet is a popular eating plan that focuses mainly on berries, vegetables, fish like mackerel and herring, whole grains, low-fat dairy products like yogurt and healthy fats like rapeseed oil.
One reason it’s popular is its impact on health…
Following the Nordic diet can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It can also reduce inflammation, particularly as it relates to blood sugar, which helps protect against type 2 diabetes. And it helps keep iodine levels stable, which can support good thyroid health.
That about covers all the bases, doesn’t it? Well, almost — we forgot about weight loss.
The Nordic diet also has been associated with weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, which some have believed could account for its healthy impact on the heart and blood sugar.
However, a recent Danish study indicates that may not even matter…
Nordic diet great for heart, diabetes protection — even without weight loss
Until now, researchers have primarily focused on the Nordic diet’s weight loss benefits and have linked its health effects to that. But according to findings by a team of Nordic researchers, this diet can lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels even if no weight is lost.
“It’s surprising because most people believe that positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol are solely due to weight loss,” says Lars Ove Dragsted, a researcher and head of section at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. “Here, we have found this not to be the case. Other mechanisms are also at play.”
Dragsted and a team of researchers from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland divided study participants into two groups. One group was given foods that are part of the Nordic diet, and the control group remained on their regular diet. The participants were all over the age of 50 and had elevated body mass index (BMI) and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
After six months of monitoring, the group following the Nordic diet was significantly healthier. They had lower cholesterol levels, lower levels of fat in the blood and better blood sugar regulation than the control group. And this was all achieved without them losing weight.
“We kept the group on the Nordic diet weight stable, meaning that we asked them to eat more if they lost weight,” Dragsted says. “Even without weight loss, we could see an improvement in their health.”
The researchers did stress that weight loss is an important factor in the Nordic diet’s overall health benefits. The study simply shows that it isn’t the only element contributing to the health benefits of the diet.
Healthy fats believed to play a role
The researchers note the unique composition of dietary fats in the Nordic diet could possibly explain the diet’s healthy effects. People who follow the diet mainly get their fats from fish, flaxseeds, sunflower and rapeseed.
“By analyzing the blood of participants, we could see that those who benefited most from the dietary change had different fat-soluble substances than the control group,” Dragsted says. “These are substances that appear to be linked to unsaturated fatty acids from oils in the Nordic diet. This is a sign that Nordic dietary fats probably play the most significant role for the health effects seen here, which I hadn’t expected.”
The researchers say they have yet to determine precisely why the change in fat composition has such a great health benefit.
“However, we can confirm that the absence of highly processed food and less saturated fats from animals has a very positive effect on us,” Dragsted says. “So, the fat composition in the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats, is probably a considerable part of the explanation for the health effects we find from the Nordic diet, even when the weight of participants remains constant.”
Nordic diet for non-Nordic people
So, how do you follow a Nordic diet if you don’t live in a Scandinavian country? In an earlier issue, we talked about how you can adapt the principles of the Nordic diet to your own area. Regardless of where you live, the key is to build your diet around the following foods:
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines
- Low-fat dairy, particularly yogurt
- Whole grains like rye, barley and oats
- Whole fruits, especially local berries
- Vegetables, especially root vegetables like turnips, beets and carrots
- Legumes like beans and lentils
Eggs and game meat like venison, rabbit and bison are also permitted on the Nordic diet as long as you eat them in moderation. Also, you should keep alcohol and red meat to an occasional indulgence. And it’s best to completely avoid added sugar, processed meat and high-sodium foods like those you find in fast-food restaurants or the prepared foods aisles of your grocery store.
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Nordic diet lowers cholesterol and blood sugar – even if you don’t lose weight — University of Copenhagen
Nordic Diet: What Is It and What Can You Eat? — Cleveland Clinic