You’re glugging the olive oil and feasting on tomatoes as per the Mediterranean diet , and then another geographically specific eating plan comes along to throw your supermarket shopping list right off. This time, your healthy eating inspo is coming from the north, and you’re more likely to be sourcing cloudberries than Seville oranges. Hear us out.
On Monday a Nordic study was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association international conference showing that those adhering to a Scandinavian diet model were 80 per cent less likely to suffer serious cognitive decline over six years than those that followed a contrasting diet, i.e, one based on refined cereals and highly processed foods. Two similar studies backed up the findings of researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, and while the Mediterranean diet has always been lauded as the superior diet where brain health is concerned, it seems that Scandinavian eating habits may just have the edge. Researcher Behnaz Shakersain told The Times that plating up as the Swedes do could have particular benefits:
“We found that some more specific foods within Swedish general eating habits may exert a significant effect on cognition that had seldom been considered by previous studies.”
With that in mind, just what characterises the Nordic diet, and why should you take a punt on eating à la Viking? Here’s your cheat-sheet on Scandinavian sustenance.
Big fish, little fish
In short: lots of fish. Nordic ministers have issued dietary guidelines recommending that the public decrease their consumption of meat and base meals around fatty fish, seafood and seaweed, as well as plants. There’s even an annual crayfish party in Sweden called Kräftskiva, where boiled crayfish has honorary status. So yes, fish.
There’s your average punnet, and then there are the more obscure Scandinavian species of berry, all with rather trippy names: cloudberries, bog bilberries, lingonberries, dewberries and arctic bramble to name but a few funky Scandi berries out there. Berries feature highly in the Nordic diet in both a sweet and savoury context, and their rich antioxidant profile combined with the fact that they’re low in sugar could go some way to explaining their apparent health benefits.
Nuts and seeds
Rich in essential fatty acids and protein, Scandinavians squirrel away plenty of nuts and seeds. In fact, the abundance of high quality protein such as nuts and fish in the Nordic diet is thought to be linked to the fact that obesity levels in Scandinavian countries are half that of those in the UK, according to the head of human nutrition at Copenhagen University Professor Arne Astrup, as such protein sources promote satiety. Go nuts, feel full.
Apples, pears and peaches are all firmly on the Nordic menu. An apple a day and all that.
Given the freezing winters, it should come as no surprise that filling, high energy and fibre-rich wholegrains are big up north. From rye bread to oats to barley to spelt, unrefined grains are where its at. White bread rolls won’t get a look in.
Notably, the dark green leafy kind. Apparently the Scandinavians are really into foraging theirs, but we won’t judge you if you go to Tesco. Word has it that two vegetarian meals a week is a pretty standard protocol in many a Nordic household.
Of the white and game variety, and definitely not too much of it - think two to three times a week.
Apparently, rapeseed oil, especially of the cold-pressed variety, is the fat of choice over olive oil and butter. With less saturated fat and more omega 3 fatty acids than the olive-based equivalent, the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations actively encourage the consumption of it.
Get the kettle on - tea is a vital component of the Nordic diet, alongside water of course, but the fact that tea is practically a national pastime here in the UK makes the prospect of a health-boosting brew particularly exciting. As it would happen, researchers are increasingly recommending that we veer towards a Scandinavian eating style than a Mediterranean one, owing to the similarities in produce and climate between us and our Nordic neighbours. Essentially, porridge is a bit more achievable than paella or a perfectly ripe tomato platter.
Not Danish pastries
But you knew this already.
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen are currently running a £12.2 million project studying foods from the Scandinavian region that typify the “new Nordic diet”, with trials in schools and amongst the elderly population to further investigate the health benefits of the Nordic style of eating, so hang on in there for more Nordic health headlines. In the meantime the general healthy eating drill is no doubt familiar - you don’t necessarily need a Scandinavian spin to eat well, but a smorgasbord can’t hurt.