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NUTRITION: Evidence supports benefits of Nordic diet

The World Health Organization released statements in early May touting its nutritional benefits.

Brenda Schwerdt, Duluth News Tribune, May 29, 2018

The Nordic Diet has been around for as long as people have inhabited the regions of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. "The New Nordic Diet," however, came into the spotlight after being spearheaded by Nordic chefs in 2004. Come 2018, and enough time has passed to collect scientific evidence about the diet's benefits.

The World Health Organization released statements in early May touting its nutritional benefits. The diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and rates of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. It also helps people maintain a healthy weight.

The Nordic Diet is plant-based with particular focus on seasonal produce. The main portion of your plate should be comprised of vegetables. Other components of the diet are fruit, whole grains and fish, with smaller contributions from lean meats and lean dairy. The diet calls for cooking with canola or rapeseed oil. One perk of the diet is that many of the regional and seasonal foods showcased in this diet are foods found in our region.

The cornerstone of the New Nordic Diet is vegetables. There is a heavy emphasis on cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, broccoli and brussel sprouts, rounded out with root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes and rutabaga. All vegetables contain beneficial vitamins, minerals and fiber. Cruciferous vegetables contain the phytochemical sulforaphane, which has been linked to a reduced cancer risk, reduced inflammation and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Root vegetables also contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin A.

Just like vegetables, fruit is loaded with beneficial vitamins, minerals and fiber. While all fruit is acceptable in the diet, the focus is on berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, lingonberries and cloudberries. Berries are filled with antioxidants; anthocyanins in particular have been credited with lowering blood pressure. Berries have also been shown to reduce cognitive decline with aging.

The Nordic Diet focuses on rye, barley and oats. Nordic whole grain products available in our grocery stores include Swedish Wasa and Danish Rugbrod. Other products such as whole-grain cereals are allowed if they don't contain added sugar or honey.

The diet recommends three servings of fish per week. Two servings should be from fatty fish such as herring, mackerel and salmon; one serving per week should come from a lean fish such as cod or haddock. The diet is relatively low in fat but does use rapeseed or canola cooking oil. Fish oil and canola oil are unsaturated fats that can reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol.

The rest of the diet is comprised of small amounts of lean meat, eggs, nuts and dairy. Select lean cuts of meat such as wild game and white-meat poultry. Small amounts of dairy like Skyr, a thick Icelandic yogurt, can also be included.

The diet excludes overly processed items, especially sugar sweetened beverages and processed meats. The diet does not count calories but rather focuses of proper portions and proper balance of the different food groups.

The New Nordic Diet is very similar to the Mediterranean Diet with focus on vegetables, fruits, whole gains, with moderate amounts of fish and lean meats, and use of heart-healthy oils. A benefit of this diet is the cost. Especially in our region, produce such as cabbage and root vegetables are inexpensive and available throughout the year.

However, it may not be the specific Nordic foods that make this diet healthy; it probably is the emphasis on whole vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains, with lower intakes of protein, high fat foods and added sugars. This diet closely follows the portions recommended in the USDA's MyPlate Guide; fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, select lean proteins and whole grains.

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