For years, the Mediterranean diet has been held aloft as the exemplary diet plan.
But a new eating plan looking to the north of Europe has started to take on the continent’s established Southern diet of high levels of vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, cereals, grains, fish and healthy unsaturated fans found in nuts, fish and olive oil.
And meat eaters will be pleased.
Thanks to scientists at the University of Copenhagen and partner institutions including Uppsala University in Sweden and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, the Nordic or ‘Viking’ diet, could be an alternative.
The study found that the diet has the potential to prevent obesity, stave off the development of type 2 diabetes, and reduce the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Researchers from Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland analysed blood and urine samples from 200 people over the age of 50, all of whom had elevated BMI numbers and increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Patients were then divided into two groups, one of which would eat food according to Nordic dietary recommendations and a control group on their normal, unchanged diet. After six months of monitoring, the results were clear to see.
According to Lars Ove Dragsted, head of department at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports:
“The group that had been on the Nordic diet for six months became significantly healthier, with lower cholesterol levels, lower overall levels of both saturated and unsaturated fat in the blood, and better regulation of glucose, compared to the control group. We kept the group on the Nordic diet weight stable, meaning that we asked them to eat more if they lost weight. Even without weight loss, we could see an improvement in their health”.
Hailing the impact of healthy fat on participants, Dragsted said: “Those who benefited most from the dietary change had different fat-soluble substances than the control group. These are substances that appear to be linked to unsaturated fatty acids from oils in the Nordic diet. This is a sign that Nordic dietary fats probably play the most significant role for the health effects seen here, which I hadn’t expected”.
What is the Viking diet?
In the 1980s, dietary experts from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland agreed on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations and adapted them across each nation. The guidelines are reviewed every eight years and are based on what is produced locally.
Guidelines promote consuming plenty of fish instead of meat, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils made from seeds such as flax. A typical Nordic diet also encourages eating whole grains such as rye and produce that grows well in the region’s climate like apples, beans, berries, cabbage, onions, peas, pears, plums and root vegetables.
In essence, the ‘Viking’ diet is high in fish, whole grains, beans, root vegetables and fruits, but low in dairy.
While the UK is the ‘fattest’ nation in Europe, Scandinavia has far better obesity figures, with Denmark in particular the most slender country on the continent.