The Nordic diet is one of the latest weight loss trends to hit the market.
The diet gets its name from its focus on cuisine customarily eaten in Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland.
These areas generally have lower obesity rates than the US (1).
What is the Nordic Diet?
The Nordic diet was created in 2004 by a number of nutrition experts in response to the growing obesity rate and unmaintainable farming practices of the US(5).
They noticed Nordic countries did not have these same issues(6).
They created the plan based on the thought process that eating similar foods could yield the same results for Americans(7).
It also contains less sugar and fat and two times the fiber of the average Western regimen (8).
The Nordic diet focuses on sustainably sourced vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while avoiding the processed and high fat items customarily associated with the West.
Foods Found on the Diet
The Nordic diet concentrates on locally grown food from sustainable sources.
Participants can eat a variety of foods, and, unlike some of today’s popular whole food plans, it does not require partakers to avoid entire food groups.
The Nordic diet is somewhat similar to the popular Mediterranean diet except for its emphasis on rapseed rather than olive oil.
On this plan you eat an abundance of vegetables, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, healthy fats like nuts and seeds, and lean proteins, especially seafood.
Dieters can also eat some eggs, cheese, yogurt, and wild meats like venison(9).
Red meats and fats from animal sources should only be eaten very rarely.
Lastly, you should completely eliminate sodas, processed foods of any kind, and foods high in fat and sugar.
This fare is commonplace in Nordic countries today, but some detractors of the diet point out that the above listed foods are not traditionally from the region since many of them do no grow well in the cold climate.
This criticism is not significant however since the effectiveness of the diets stems from its focus on whole foods in general rather than foods of a specific origin.
The Nordic Diet emphasizes foods traditionally eaten in Nordic countries with the bulk of a person’s nutrition coming from sustainably farmed seafood and vegetables. Participants reap benefits by avoiding the fat, sugar, and additives commonly found in the American diet.
Impact on Weight
Several studies have been done on how the Nordic diet impacts weight. One study of nearly 150 overweight people found that those who adhered to the diet lost an average of 10.4 lbs over those who ate a traditional Danish diet and only lost 3.3 lbs (10).
This is highly significant considering participants did not have to count or limit calories at all.
However, most of these participants gained the weight back over the following year as is typical with many diets (11).
Another study showed that participants on the Nordic diet lost an average of 4 percent body fat, pointedly more than the participants who consumed an average diet (12).
This is likely due to the focus on lean proteins and avoidance of fatty meats and animal fats.
The Nordic diet shows significant short term weight loss that can be achieved without limiting the amount a participant eats.
Health Improvements on the Nordic Diet
The Nordic diet also improves health in other ways. Several studies showed participants had improved blood pressure but no significant improvements in cholesterol levels, blood sugar, or inflammation.
The Nordic diet may meaningfully reduce blood pressure.
A 6 month study showed that participants who adhered to the diet reduced their systolic blood pressure by 5.1 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.2 mmHg compared to a control group (13).
Another study found this effect was more notable in people with metabolic issues (14).
Lowering blood pressure improves health by reducing the risk of serious ailments such as heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney problems (15).
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Studies showed inconsistent results on the Nordic diet’s effect on cholesterol and triglyceride measurements.
Most studies returned a decrease in triglycerides, an important measure of heart health, but an insignificant impact on LDL and HDL cholesterol (16).
One study, however, did note a mild decline of LDL-c/HDL-c and Apo B/Apo A1 ratios and non-HDL cholesterol which can reduce the likelihood of heart disease (17).
Blood Sugar Levels
While one study found a small reduction in fasting blood sugar, the Nordic diet did not prove to be notably effective at lowering overall blood sugar levels (18).
Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s immune response, but it can cause health problems when levels are too high.
Many people seek to control inflammation with diet. However, studies of the Nordic diet’s impact on inflammation yielded mixed results.
One study found a decreased presence of genes that indicate inflammation in the body’s fat cells (19), and another found a reduction in a certain inflammatory marker.
However, most studies showed no meaningful or significant results (20).
The Nordic diet is effective for lowering blood pressure but has not been proven to have an impact on other factors like cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar levels, and signs of inflammation.
The Nordic Diet and the Environment
Another important factor of the Nordic diet is its effect on the environment(21).
It concentrates on foods that are locally grown and farmed with sustainable methods.
Some proponents also stress purchasing organic foods whenever possible.
Following the Nordic Diet protects the environment, promote good health by avoiding pesticides, and benefit the local economy.
While the Nordic diet can lead to short-term weight loss, its results are not overwhelmingly.
There is nothing special about focusing on traditional Nordic foods over the foods of any other region.
Its main benefit comes from replacing traditional American fare that is highly processed and high in sugars and fat with sustainably produced whole, single-ingredient foods like vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
Many of today’s popular diets like Atkins, Paleo and Mediterranean diet also adhere to these principle which have been shown to improve health across the board.