What Is the Nordic Diet?

Nordic diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Nordic diet is loaded with whole grains, berries, fruits, vegetables, fish, and low-fat dairy products. It’s also low in added sugars and processed foods and designed to be easier on the environment than other eating plans. In general, it's a very wholesome way to eat.

This diet was created by a group of scientists, nutritionists, and chefs in Copenhagen, Denmark, to improve public health. U.S. News and World Report ranks it number nine in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.6/5. Learn more about what you can eat on this diet to determine if it's the right lifestyle for you.

What Experts Say

"The Nordic diet focuses on produce, fish, and other foods common in Nordic cuisine. It’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, except it emphasizes canola oil instead of olive oil. Experts agree the whole-food emphasis is a logical choice for a nutritious diet that may reduce disease risk."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

The Nordic diet consists of whole, fresh, seasonal, local foods and discourages heavily processed foods. So you'll need to cut back on added sugars, packaged foods, and high-fat red meats in favor of locally caught fish, locally produced dairy products, lean meats, and seasonal produce.

Choosing local, seasonal foods means this diet has less impact on the environment than other eating plans.

What You Need to Know

There are no particular guidelines on the Nordic diet for meal timing and when to eat. But the diet's originators do suggest that people eat mindfully and communally. Share meals with family and friends, and sit at the table instead of eating on the go.

You don’t need to fill your kitchen with Scandinavian fare to enjoy a Nordic-style diet—just stock up on the fruits and vegetables you already love and add lots of berries, fish, and whole grains. Switch to canola oil and low-fat dairy products and you’re all set.

The Nordic diet is flexible enough to accommodate other dietary needs, such as dairy-free, gluten-free, or vegetarian plans.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have small children who eat fish, you will need to watch the mercury levels in the fish you are eating and serving.

What to Eat
  • Whole grains

  • Fruits and vegetables, especially berries

  • Dairy products

  • Fish

  • Healthy fats

  • Poultry and game

What Not to Eat
  • Processed foods

  • Added sugars and sweetened beverages

  • Red meat

Whole Grains

At least 25% of the Nordic diet's calories come from whole grain products such as rye, barley, and oats. It also includes brown rice, whole grain pasta, and plenty of whole-grain bread. Whole grain and rye cereals are allowed as long as they don't contain added sugar or honey.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Berries

The Nordic diet includes at least 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables each day, preferably organic, in-season, and locally grown. Apples, pears, potatoes, root vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage are recommended.

The diet is especially rich in berries. Plan to eat at least 2 cups per day of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or the traditional lingonberries. Berries are low in calories, rich in vitamins and minerals, and contain beneficial phytochemicals due to their colorful blue and red pigments.

Dairy Products​

Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are included in the diet but sweetened milk drinks and sugary yogurt products are not. People following the Nordic diet are advised to consume at least two servings per day.

Fish 

The diet also advises to eat fatty freshwater or saltwater fish like salmon, herring, or mackerel twice each week (or more), in addition to one meal made with low-fat fish, such as cod or haddock.

Fats 

The Nordic diet is fairly low in saturated fat and focused on healthy fat sources, including rapeseed oil (known as canola oil in North America), nuts, seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon.

Meats 

Poultry and game meats are allowed as long as you opt for cuts of meat that are lower in fat. Choose chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of lamb and venison. The diet calls for limiting or avoiding other red meats, including beef.

Processed Foods

The Nordic diet requires followers to avoid processed foods as much as possible; they contain added sugar, salt, and fat and are not local or environmentally friendly.

Added Sugars

Avoid foods made with added sugars and sweetened drinks. One daily serving of fruit or berry juice is permitted but, otherwise, stick with water, coffee, tea, and low-fat milk.

Sample Shopping List

A well-balanced Nordic diet emphasizes seafood, plant protein, fruits and vegetables, legumes, grains, or other complex carbs. You can also consume lean animal protein on this plan.

Note that fresh fish will likely have to be cooked or frozen within a few days of purchase. The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started on the Nordic diet. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods and types of seafood that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, arugula, kale, collard greens)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, bell peppers, carrots)
  • Fruits (grapefruit, oranges, mixed berries, bananas, apples, pineapple)
  • Whole grains (whole-wheat bread, brown rice pasta, quinoa, barley)
  • Fresh or frozen fish (salmon, halibut, cod, sea bass, branzino)
  • Canned or packaged fish (tuna, sardines, anchovies, salmon, herring)
  • Lean animal protein (chicken breast, turkey breast)
  • Plant-based protein and legumes (tofu, soybeans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Healthy fat sources (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olives, olive oil)
  • Dairy products (yogurt, cheeses, milk, cottage cheese)
  • Eggs

Sample Meal Plan

The Nordic diet features lots of seafood with smaller amounts of lean animal protein. The following five-day meal plan is not all-inclusive but should give you a sense of how to follow the Nordic lifestyle. Note that if you do choose to follow this diet, there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes and preferences.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Nutritious

  • May offer health benefits

  • Environmentally friendly

  • Flexible

  • Sustainable

Cons
  • May not always be practical

  • Potentially expensive

  • Time-consuming

There are many benefits to the Nordic diet but, like all diets, it has some drawbacks. Review the pros and cons associated with this diet type.

Pros

Nutrition

Like the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet delivers a lot of nutritional bang for the buck. Whole grains, fruit, and vegetables provide plenty of important nutrients without a lot of calories. Berries offer antioxidants and fish provides omega-3 fatty acids.

All the major food groups are represented and the diet emphasizes whole foods, which are almost always more healthful than processed ones. That means the diet includes few empty calories and unhealthy additives.

Health Benefits

Research has connected this diet with a few health benefits:

  • Two studies, one lasting six months and the other 12 weeks long, found the Nordic diet can lower blood pressure compared to an "average" diet.
  • Another study, which analyzed a large group of patients over a long time period, suggests that the diet could help prevent strokes.
  • A similar longitudinal study showed evidence that the diet is associated with a lowered risk of a heart attack.

Environmental Awareness

The creators of the Nordic diet wanted to address rising obesity rates in Nordic countries, but they also wanted to promote a diet that would have less of an environmental impact than current dietary patterns.

Flexibility

There are no strict rules for this eating plan. It's not meant to be a weight-loss plan, but instead to promote foods and preparations that could have health and environmental benefits. So, there is room to interpret it in a way that works for you.

Sustainability

Not only is the Nordic diet sustainable environmentally (it emphasizes foods produced using sustainable methods), it is also a manageable lifestyle change. It uses familiar foods—more of some, less of others—and is not overly restrictive.

Plus, there's no measuring or calculating. Just stick with the recommended foods and eat the others sparingly. (If you are using the diet to lose weight, however, you may need to be more cautious about calorie intake and portion sizes.)

While this diet has many benefits, it is not for everyone. For example, if you don't care for fish or don't have access to locally caught seafood (as many people in Nordic countries do), the Nordic diet might not be the right choice for you.

Cons

Practicality

While it's handy to plan meals and cook without worrying about calorie or carb counts, some people may find that the ingredients on this diet can be hard to source.

Expensive

All of the fish and organic produce can be costly, even if you live where seafood is plentiful or there are lots of organic farms. These ingredients tend to cost more than conventionally farmed produce and inexpensive cuts of meat.

Time-Consuming

Finding and preparing these foods takes time, too. And since processed foods are not recommended, that means the majority of what you eat should be prepared at home.

In addition, the diet's creators intended for meals to be consumed in a leisurely, mindful way. Some people may find this challenging if they're short on time.

Commercial farming and fishing can both be taxing on the environment, so the Nordic diet stresses the importance of eating food that's local, seasonal (meaning less fuel for transporting it to market), and organic.

Is the Nordic Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Several other heart-healthy diets share qualities with the Nordic eating plan.

  • The DASH Diet was designed to help patients lower blood pressure. There are no off-limits foods but the idea is to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts while cutting back on red meat, sugary drinks, and sodium.
  • The pescatarian diet is similar to a vegetarian diet, with the simple addition of fish and seafood. This makes it a lot like the Nordic diet in terms of types of food and nutrition.
  • The Mediterranean diet, of which the Nordic diet is most often compared, shares many qualities. Among them are eating mostly seafood, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains—ingredients that deliver lots of nutritional value. It is also not a formal plan with firm guidelines.

When compared to federal guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet, the Nordic diet includes all recommended food groups, with reasonable proportions of each. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products each day.

The USDA indicates that a person's daily calorie needs can vary based on a variety of factors, some of which include activity level, sex, and age. Use this calculator tool to determine the right number of calories for you.

The Nordic diet adheres to the USDA's recommended dietary guidelines and is considered a healthy lifestyle choice for most people.

Health Benefits

The Nordic diet was designed to make a healthy diet more appealing to the masses while also addressing the prevalence of obesity. In addition to promoting weight loss, there are numerous positive health outcomes associated with this style of eating.

For instance, this diet may help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. In a 2011 study, participants with high cholesterol saw an improvement in lipid profile, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure.

Health Risks

There are no common health risks associated with the Nordic diet. Though, it may require being mindful of calorie intake and portion sizes to maintain a healthy weight. (The eating plan does encourage healthy habits like eating mindfully.)

A Word From Verywell

If you're looking for an eating plan that's good for the Earth and your body, the Nordic diet might be a smart choice for you. It's nutritious and may even have health and weight loss benefits. But the expense of sourcing local, seasonal, and organic products could put this diet out of reach for some.

The basic tenets of the Nordic diet will still be healthy even if not everything you eat is organic or local. The important part is focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods as much as you can.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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