The New Nordic Diet—Is Scandinavian the New Mediterranean?

A breakfast bowl filled with Nordic ingredients, skyr and granola.

Everyone seems to aspire to a Scandinavian lifestyle these days. For travel, Iceland is the vacation destination. In design, minimalism means so much more than Ikea. Speaking of meatballs, with foodies, Copenhagen-style porridge is also piping hot. Plus, science says Nordic people live healthier and happier lives than the rest of the world. But why? Is it because they get better healthcare, more vacation days, or longer maternity leaves? They certainly know how to relax and unwind, getting cozy at home with cups of tea and candles. But maybe, just maybe, it also has something to do with the way they eat.

What Is the Nordic Diet?

A group of food professionals and famous chefs met in Copenhagen in 2004, to define a regional cuisine that was healthier than traditional Nordic fare. They laid out a manifesto, focusing on seasonal and sustainable cooking, and celebrating regional ingredients. Those recommendations became a set of formal nutrition guidelines. Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet is plant based, with a focus on fish and a moderate amounts of healthy fats, although they prefer rapeseed oil over olive oil. But it’s fun to see how healthy eating plays out in another part of the world, and the ingredients definitely look a little different—care for some pickled herring on rye toast? The hallmarks of the Nordic diet include:  

  • Antioxidant-filled fruit, especially berries, such as cloudberries, blueberries, and strawberries
  • Fiber-rich vegetables, like root vegetables and cabbage
  • Heart-healthy whole grains, like oats, barley, and rye
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, and herring
  • Low-fat dairy, like milk, yogurt, skyr
  • Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and vegetable oil (rapeseed, flaxseed)

How to Try the Nordic Diet

With the trend going strong, researchers dug into what it really takes to lose weight and keep it off, so you can enjoy a long and healthy life. They confirmed that the Nordic diet can be incredibly effective for maintaining weight loss and reducing disease risk. But to really get it right, they recommend a magic ratio of 2 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein. So when following the Nordic diet, you do want to eat protein with every meal and snack, but you don’t have to cut carbs completely out of your life. They just have to be healthy whole grains, specifically with a low glycemic index, which means they release sugar more slowly into your bloodstream, and keep you full for longer.

Across a day, that could look like a breakfast of skyr with muesli and berries; a lunch with dark rye toast, smoked salmon, and greens; and a dinner with turkey meatballs, roasted carrots, and cabbage. And you can hit the right ratio with nuts, veggies, and fruit for your snacks—the goal is to have half the grams of protein to carbs.

Remember, you’re not likely to see the ratio of grams of protein to carbs when you look at your plate. But you can easily see how the numbers balance out by counting your macros with the food logging feature in the Fitbit app. And you don’t have to get too caught up in the numbers. A little more or a little less on any given day is fine.  

3 Quick & Easy Nordic-Inspired Recipes

Ready to start eating your way to long-term health and happiness? Here are three healthy recipes from The Nordic Way, by Arne Astrup, Jennie Brand-Miller, and Christian Bitz.

Healthy recipe for Nordic skyr with granola.
Find the full recipe for Skyr with Granola.

Healthy recipe for Nordic smoked salmon on rye toast.
Find the full recipe for Open-Faced Sandwich with Salmon, Ginger & Lime.

Healthy recipe for Nordic roast cod and carrots.
Find the full recipe for Cod with Carrot & Hazelnuts.

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