Gastronomy and healthy eating don't usually figure in the same sentence. Yet both foodies and health experts are singing the praises of the New Nordic Diet, which is based on seasonal berries, cold-climate vegetables, wild meat and fat-rich fish. "Like the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet is rich in omega-3 fats and mono-unsaturated fats, low in saturated fats and high in fibre and lean proteins," says Sydney-based dietitian Geraldine Georgeou.
Nordic food first came to international attention thanks to ground-breaking Copenhagen restaurant Noma, whose co-founders, René Redzepi and Claus Meyer, eschewed fine-dining staples like foie gras in favour of fresh and foraged local ingredients. Now, Meyer has collaborated with University of Copenhagen professor Arne Astrup on OPUS, a five-year research project on the New Nordic Diet to investigate whether it has the potential to prevent weight-related diseases, and to develop food, health and lifestyle strategies for reducing obesity.
While adult obesity rates are lower in Nordic nations than in New Zealand, they have still risen by more than 40 per cent over the past decade. In Norway, 10 per cent of adults are obese, rising to 21 per cent in Iceland.
Preliminary results from one OPUS study of 181 overweight volunteers showed that, after 12 weeks, those eating the New Nordic Diet lost significantly more weight on average (3.1 kilograms) than those eating an average Danish diet (1.6 kilograms).
Another recent study of 166 obese volunteers by the University of Eastern Finland found that those who switched to a Nordic diet saw improvements in their cholesterol levels. After 24 weeks, subjects in the control group showed little change in the level of "bad" LDL-C cholesterol, while those on a Nordic diet showed a 4 per cent drop.
But how is a Nordic diet relevant to us? Georgeou says we shouldn't get hung up on the name, and that a Nordic-style diet is all about eating locally available nutritious foods. Here are six ways you can adopt the principles of a Nordic diet.
Replace wheat with rye
A typical Nordic lunch is an open sandwich made of rye bread with different toppings such as pickled herring or boiled egg. "Because it uses the whole grain, rye bread is packed with slow-digesting fibre and won't cause the sharp rises in blood sugar that create food cravings," says Georgeou.
Switch to rapeseed oil
While olive oil is typical of the Mediterranean region, rapeseed oil (known as canola oil in Australia and widely available) is the local alternative in Scandinavia. "We know olive oil is healthy, but the cold-pressed variety of rapeseed oil is even lower in saturated fat and richer in omega-3s," says Georgeou.
Stock up on berries
Native berries, such as lingonberries and bilberries, are Scandi staples. "They're packed with vitamins and antioxidants and are known to help with anti-ageing," says Georgeou. New Zealanders can enjoy the same benefits from blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, which are in season in summer.
Opt for oily fish
The Nordic diet is brimming with herring, mackerel and salmon, either fresh, raw, pickled or smoked. "Oily fish is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, which studies show can help with weight loss," says Georgeou. The National Heart Foundation recommends two to three servings a week. "Choosing fresh varieties will keep sodium levels down."
Get creative with kale
Vegetables such as kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts thrive in cooler Nordic climates. "They've all got great disease-fighting antioxidants and are packed with B-group vitamins," says Georgeou. Kale can be used in soups, salads and even smoothies.
Go for game meat
The Nordic diet features venison, elk and reindeer rather than beef. "Game meat is great for iron and provides long-lasting energy," says Georgeou.
- Daily Life
Do you believe eating superfoods makes you healthier?Related story: (See story)