Every time a new study comes out about the so-called Nordic diet, the media once again comes up with the various headlines such as “move over Mediterranean diet here comes the Nordic diet”. Yesterday, I saw an article in which a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist (like myself) said that a Nordic diet is actually better than a Mediterranean diet.
Her reasons for this were mainly that the Nordic diet was good for the environment, it recommends eating wild foods, choosing seasonal foods and eating less meat. Sorry- I’m confused, doesn’t the Mediterranean diet have the exact same recommendations? In fact the Mediterranean diet has actually been presented as a model and example for a sustainable diet by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In the end the dietitian noted that she gives higher marks to the Nordic Diet but with one caveat: use olive oil. Sure, but if you are eating plenty of local vegetables, fatty fish and olive oil-then what do you have? A Mediterranean Diet! I think this brings up the issue that once again, perhaps many experts out there do not know what a real Mediterranean diet is.
Nordic Diet with…Olive Oil
So let’s clarify a few things: the Nordic diet was a diet that was developed based on foods that are local to the Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. Now as noted in many sources, the Nordic diet has many similarities with the Mediterranean diet. Its main difference is the oil. The Nordic diet recommends canola oil and you may have heard that canola oil is comparable to olive oil because both are sources of monounsaturated fat. They are not comparable. They fail to mention that olives are actually a fruit and as such are rich in antioxidants, olive oil therefore is the juice of the fruit and is also rich in antioxidants. In fact, it is the antioxidants in the olive oil that provide most of its benefits, and they are present only in extra-virgin olive oil, not in canola oil.
The Nordic diet is obviously much better than a typical westernized diet, and it has some research behind it, but it is a bit far-fetched to say that it is better than the Mediterranean diet. In essence what they are saying is that both diets are similar and if you use olive oil instead of canola, you can make it healthier. So actually if you eat plenty of seasonal vegetables, fatty fish, wild plants (like horta) well…then you are following a Mediterranean style diet.
Now let’s take a quick look at the research: there is much less research on the Nordic diet compared to the Mediterranean diet, so in order to make statements of one being better than the other, you need to support it with research. The Mediterranean diet has been proven over and over again to have health benefits particularly for heart disease, but also for cancer, cognitive disorders and longevity. In addition, it is based on a real-life eating pattern, which has been widely documented (particularly here in Greece).
A new study that came out just last month that compared both diets and here is what the researchers wrote: “In general, the Mediterranean Diet, compared with the Healthy Nordic Diet, was more strongly associated with a lower cause-specific mortality. In Swedish women, both diets were inversely associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. The combined analysis, however, indicated an advantage to be adherent to the Mediterranean Diet”. This does not mean that the Nordic diet is not healthy, it means that you cannot state that it is health-ier, and to compare the two diets is wrong. What we are talking about here is basically following a diet rich in vegetables that are local and seasonal in your area, cooked with olive oil, less meat, more fatty fish and wild plants, the very components that have always been part of the Mediterranean diet. Here is what I had written 5 years ago which is important to understand: “Don’t try to follow a Mediterranean diet by for example, buying cucumbers from the other side of the world. The main idea of the diet is to eat what foods are grown and available close to you, not what foods might be considered “Mediterranean”.”
So while I understand that the “Nordic Diet” can be catchy and attractive for anyone wanting something new and maybe a bit exotic, but honestly I would just call it a Modified Nordic-Mediterranean Diet, although that cannot be marketed as well I suppose. So here is my advice to you: Eat a lot of vegetables that are seasonal and local, use healthy fats (olive oil because it contains antioxidants), eat wild plants and herbs, eat less meat and more fatty fish, avoid overly processed foods. Plain and simple.
Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash