Switching to a Nordic diet could help us stay healthy
The diet, which is rich in berries, fish and rapeseed oil, could help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The health benefits of eating a Mediterranean-style diet have long been touted by nutritionists, but it seems eating more like our Northern European neighbours could provide similar results.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have found that the Nordic diet can provide significant health benefits such as lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of blood clots, even to those who are overweight.
It is based on ingredients local to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, and includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and oils made from rapeseed, sunflower or flaxseed.
The team took 200 volunteers from Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland aged over 50 who all had high BMIs that put them at an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They asked half of them to stick to their regular diet and asked the other half to switch to the set of Nordic Nutrition Recommendations put together by dietary experts in 2012.
They then took blood and urine samples at the start of the study and again after six months to check for key markers of health.
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“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,” said co-author Lars Ove Dragsted, head of section at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.
“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.”
The team are as yet unsure why they saw such positive results, though they suspect it was in part due to the composition of fats in the Nordic diet that come from fish, flaxseeds, sunflower and rapeseed, and are high in Omega-3 and Omega-6.
“By analysing the blood of participants, we could see that those who benefited most from the dietary change had different fat-soluble substances than the control group,” said Dragsted.
“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.”
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.
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