The Nordic Diet

Buckling
Buckling – Photograph by David Griffen

The New Nordic Diet is everywhere once you know how to read the signs. Like following a nature trail of cellared vegetables, twigs and shells used as serving pieces, garden left overs such as turnip tails and nastutium pods are swept onto plates with steaming fish as if blown straight from the Norwegian shores.  This latest food craze has it’s roots in our Northern European heritage- similar to the Viking’s diet and could hold the secret to our health.

For years, the Mediterranean diet rich with olive oil and vegetables has been believed to hold the key to health and longevity but it seems that the Scandinavian nation’s cuisine or ‘New Nordic’ could actually be better for us.

According to research, northern Europeans find it difficult to stick to the Mediterranean diet, which consists of fruit, vegetables, olive oil, and small amounts of red meat and dairy – because it is incompatible with our natural cold climate diets. In the winter months we Northerners need  heartier foods warm to our cockles.

The Nordic diet is rich in cheap but tasty oily fish such as trout, herring and mackerel. Other elements such as  game, berries and herbs, such as chives,  thyme,  cardamon, juniper berries, dill (the garlic of the North)  and fennel provide warming sustaining feasts. Most meals are served with boiled potatoes and root veg and the bread is dark brown, full of grain and oats.

Scientists have found that eating a diet based on these foods may significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Nordic cuisine is usually made up of fresh berries, fish and game – foods that thrive in colder northern climates.

The diet, nicknamed the Noma diet after the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, ranked as the world’s best three years in a row. Co founder of Noma, Claus Meyer created a detailed  manifesto for Nordic Chefs in 2004 with guidelines for good practice including the importance of using local, sustainable and seasonal produce.

The New Nordic diet is winning fans across the globe. Here in the UK, The Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street is packed with Nordic delicacies which sound like a fairy feast- rosehip soup, sourmilk, crisp bread, pickled herring, gravlax and cloudberry jam. Although there are 15,000 Scandinavians in London, 85% of their customers are British.

In a world where tomatoes are available all year round and we can buy asparagus from Peru in December, the Noma diet focuses on traditional method of preserving foods such as drying, curing, smoking and pickling, rather than relying on preservatives and stabilizers. Daniel Patterson, a Nordic Chef in San Francisco says “We say goodbye to fresh ingredients on the first of October and don’t see them again until April.”

The Nordic diet is based on food that’s easily grown and produced in colder climates making it cheaper and more environmentally friendly to produce.

 The world’s leading expert on obesity and head of the department of human nutrition at Copenhagen University, Professor Arne Astrup hopes that the ‘new Nordic Diet’ will help battle the increasing global problem of obesity by developing a counterpart to the Mediterranean diet that is ‘superior in terms of heath benefits and palatability’ .

 There is simply no way you can over eat on the Nordic diet says Bronte Blohoj, co founder of The Scandinavian Kitchen.“Because your body would not be able to deal with too many grains and oats.”  Scandinavia has low levels of obesity, mainly because of  their diet.

The health benefits of  Nordic Food  are difficult  to ignore. Oily fish is high in essential fatty acids and omega 3 oils, and surprisingly the native berries such as blueberries, lingonberries and cloudberries contain as much omega 3 as oily fish.  Rapeseed oil, commonly used in cooking is a good source of vitamin E and omega 3s. The cold weather vegetables such as kale, cabbage and sprouts contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants and vitamin K.

A study of 166 obese people from Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, was recently carried out to test the health benefits. Some ate their regular diet and some adopted the Nordic diet. Both groups ate the same number of calories but those on the Nordic diet ate meals packed with fish, locally sourced vegetables and whole grain products. Poultry or game was consumed rather than red meat. While those who stuck to their regular diet showed little difference in their levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol after 24 weeks, the Nordic version reduced chemicals that cause inflammation in the blood that are linked to heart disease.

 The Nordic diet is considered easy to adopt because of the common ingredients grown in Northern Europe. It  is about simplicity, healthy everyday food for common people. “The current political climate is perfect for the Nordic diet to become a success because it’s both seasonal and organic” says Danish chef and author of The Scandinavian Cookbook’ Trina Hahnermann,  “In today’s world we cannot keep eating products produced thousands of miles from our own home.” So ‘new Nordic diet’ which in reality is an old European diet could just make sense in terms of our pockets and our waistlines.

Kate Baily