What Is the Nordic Diet — and Can It Help You Lose Weight?

Move over Mediterranean Diet and make room for the New Nordic Diet, an eating plan that's geared toward weight loss and longevity. But is this diet really the healthiest way to eat — or is it just another fad that will lose its luster in time?

Salmon's high omega-3 content and rye bread's stellar fiber count make this open-faced sandwich a Nordic diet must-try. (Image: Getty Images/Edalin Photography 500px)

What Is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic diet is an eating plan that incorporates minimally processed, seasonal, whole foods from the Nordic region of the world — Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

Here's a little insight on how the diet came about: The New Nordic Diet, which is the original name, originates from a push by researchers to look at traditional eating patterns around the world — how people ate before the introduction of processed food and mass food production, says Suzanne Dixon, a registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida. It's similar to the Mediterranean Diet and the Okinawa Diet. (And FYI, people living on the small Japanese island of Okinawa are among the healthiest and longest-living in the world!)

What Foods Can You Eat on the Nordic Diet?

"Nordic diet staples include vegetables and fruit — especially berries," Dixon says, adding that you should aim for at least five servings of produce daily. As for protein and fats, the Nordic diet emphasizes loading your plate with fish rather than red meat or poultry.

Fatty fish, including salmon and sardines, are the cornerstone of the eating plan. As for additional sources of protein, some game meat, free-range eggs and low-fat dairy can be included a few times per week, but not daily, she says. Think of these foods as treats that should be eaten in moderation.

If you're not one to gravitate towards the keto diet, then the Nordic diet could ideal for you. "The Nordic diet includes daily servings of whole grains, with rye being the grain of choice," says Dixon. Try spreading nut butter or jam with berries on rye toast for a snack or wake up to a bowl of rye flakes for breakfast.

Beyond these wholesome staples, nuts, seeds, other seafood, legumes and plenty of herbs and spices, as well as canola oil, are all encouraged on the diet to provide greater nutrition and flavor, says Dixon.

What's Off Limits on the Nordic Diet?

Say goodbye to added salt, red meat and non-game animal fats, butter and high-fat dairy, refined grain products like white bread and baked goods as well as margarine and added sugar.

When you read that list, you can see why Nordic people are so healthy after all!

Yes, the Nordic Diet May Help You Lose Weight

Good news: The Nordic diet may help you slim down and shed those last few pounds.

"Compared to people following a Danish diet for six months, those following the [Nordic diet] experienced more weight loss and positive changes in their microbiome that support healthier weight and metabolism," says Dixon, citing a September 2017 study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

And a July 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with normal blood glucose levels lost nearly five pounds on the Nordic diet while people with prediabetes lost a little over 13 pounds — and had better blood sugar control and glucose regulation compared to folks on a control diet.

What's more, a June 2018 study of 55,056 women published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that those who followed the Nordic diet during pregnancy had lower BMIs and gained slightly less weight up to eight years after giving birth compared to women who didn't follow the diet as rigidly.

While the Nordic diet is a great eating pattern for most people, it may be especially helpful for those with metabolic conditions in need of weight management. According to an April 2019 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the higher a person's fasting glucose levels, the more effective the diet is for weight loss. "These results suggest that for people with prediabetes, diabetes or metabolic syndrome, this diet may be particularly effective for weight loss," says Dixon.

One reason why, she says, is the diet cuts back on "high-calorie, nutrient-void foods." By getting rid of processed foods, fatty meat, added sugar and refined carbs, you can cut a significant number of calories and the potential health risks associated with them.

By replacing these picks with healthy protein and fats (like fish and nuts) along with high-fiber, nutrient-dense picks, you'll stay full for longer, which can make it easier to stick with the Nordic eating plan and avoid mindless munching.

Still, as with any diet, the Nordic diet will only lead to weight loss if you are motivated and comfortable enough with the foods to stick with them for the long term. You may be able to "loosen up" on the diet a bit once you reach your goal weight, but overall, you need to stick pretty closely to the original meal plan and make sure you're getting enough exercise to maintain your new lower body weight, explains Dixon.

In addition to weight loss, the Nordic diet happens to have several other health perks — including heart health. A longitudinal study of 27,548 people, published in June 2018 in BMC Medicine, found that the eating style was associated with a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

Research suggests that the eating style could also keep your kids in tip-top shape. "Some data suggests that children who adhere to the Nordic diet have higher quality diets compared with kids eating a typical diet," says Dixon, citing a June 2016 study published in Food & Nutrition Research.

Nordic Diet Meal Plan Ideas

If you're thinking of giving the Nordic diet a go, here's a little inspiration for meal planning to get you started.

Each day will differ, of course, but one example to follow might be:

  • Breakfast: Rye crisp crackers with a dollop of low-fat or non-fat Greek yogurt topped with blueberries.
  • Snack: Walnuts and an apple.
  • Lunch: Lentil soup with a slice of rye bread and a green salad. Opt for a canola-oil-based vinaigrette.
  • Dinner: Poached or baked salmon with dill-yogurt sauce, roasted root vegetables and a green salad with no-added-sugar cranberries.
  • Dessert: A cup of mixed berries.

Have fun experimenting with different foods and flavors, and get in those berries, fish and rye. The great news is that these foods are super versatile, so you'll likely stay on track and avoid getting bored!

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