The so-called Mediterranean diet is held up as a gold-standard of healthy eating but there is another meal plan that is packed with just as many nutrients, experts explain.
The Nordic diet emphasizes a greater intake of fruit, berries, vegetables, whole grain products, fish and game, and less milk products, meat and poultry.
The key is eating foods that are in season in cold climates, like berries in the spring, courgette in summer and chard in winter. Small amounts of saturated fats and processed meats are also allowed in moderation.
The Nordic diet emphasizes a greater intake of fruit, berries, vegetables, whole grain products, fish and game, and less intake of sweets, milk products, meat and poultry. It is a healthy choice and if you are smart about it can be a much cheaper way to live
Lola Biggs, dietitian at natural health supplement brand Together Health (togetherhealth.co.uk) points out that both the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet incorporate a good amount of omega rich, fatty fish such as sardines which are heart healthy.
WHAT THE NORDIC DIET CONSISTS OF
- vegetables: carrots, kale, cabbage, radish, green beans
- fruit & berries: apples, pears, plums, blueberries, lingonberries
- Whole grains: oats, whole grain wheat, rye, barley
- Fish: salmon, trout, cod
- Vegetables: beans, peas, and lentils
- Unsaturated fats: nuts, seeds, canola oil, fatty fish
She explains that the differences come down to the types of fruits, vegetables and fish.
The Nordic diet consists of heartier foods that are grown in colder climates, such as root vegetables like beets, carrots and turnips, fruits including plums, apples and berries and fish like herring.
This diet also includes more fermented food like dairy (kefir) and fermented fish that can offer good gut friendly probiotic bacteria.
Whereas a typical Mediterranean diet uses more warmer weather and antioxidant rich foods such as figs, melons, aubergines, juicy ripe tomatoes, and red peppers.
Lola said: ‘Both diets are generally healthy as they tend to limit the number of processed foods and saturated fats. One of the biggest differences between the two diets comes down to the oil they use.
‘The Mediterranean diet uses extra virgin olive oil while the Nordic diet uses canola oil from the rapeseed plant. Both are excellent sources of heart healthy unsaturated fats and boost good cholesterol.’
Lola added: ‘As well as being well-balanced, it can be affordable as you are creating meals out of mostly whole grains, beans or lentils and plants that can be versatile and cheap.’
The Nordic and Mediterranean diets have lots of similarities, as both heavily rely on plant-based foods that include plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, while grains, nuts and pulses
HOW TO EAT NORDIC
The main thing to note when starting a Nordic diet is what is in season. Seasonal food, in theory, is grown, picked and sold at the peak of its season.
That means it tends to retain most of its health benefits, and has fewer growing agents. It is also at the peak of its supply, so it is cheaper for farmers – and, therefore, cheaper for you.
Cut out processed foods
Tamara Willner, nutritionist at NHS-backed healthy eating plan Second Nature, says that the biggest benefit of the Nordic diet is that it excludes ultra-processed foods such as cakes, crisps, chocolate, and fizzy drinks.
How it works on a budget
Root vegetables are cheaper
Seasonal vegetables tend to be cheaper as they aren’t being imported. It is also worth thinking about growing your own produce, if you have space and time.
The winter vegetables suggested in the Nordic diet, such as cabbage, kale and broccoli do tend to cost less than summer vegetables.
Use your freezer
If you buy seasonally, you can afford to stretch your money further, so why not bulk buy summer berries and then freeze them for winter.
Freezing fruit and vegetables, is a good trick, as the produce retains its vitamins and minerals.
Think canned fish
Canned fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines are great tasty choices.
The provide the same healthy omega 3 fats you need at a much lower price. It’s also worth thinking about frozen fish too.
Consider your carbs
The cost of pasta has increased by 50 per cent this year, so it’s worth thinking about other forms of carbohydrate.
The Nordic diet champions whole grains, beans/lentils and plants, all of which are high in fiber, keep you fuller for longer, and cost less.
‘Any diet that excludes these foods, and focuses on building meals from whole foods will be a healthier option than the average western diet that we consume,’ she said.
Embrace fermented foods
Scandinavia is known for its fermentation. The first evidence of fermentation was found on the east coast of Sweden some time between 3000 BC and 6000 BC.
Fermented food is getting a lot of attention from nutritionists at the moment because of its link to gut health.
Tamara explained: ‘Our gut hosts a huge number of gut microbes that feed off the foods we eat and produce more bacteria.
‘As a good general rule of thumb, the larger the variety of plant-based foods we’re eating, the happier our gut (unless you suffer from IBS or are following a low FODMAP diet).’
From pickled fish to fermented dairy, there is an abundance of options. Sweden has a fermented milk called filmjölk, which is similar to yogurt and in Iceland they have skyr.
Other fermented foods include sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh and yogurt.
Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein while having a moderate intake of saturated fat, processed red meat, added sugar and sodium has been shown to have many health benefits, for example, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases , obesity and diabetes type-2.
Signe explains: ‘By choosing unsaturated fat sources (such as nuts, seeds, fatty fish) instead of saturated fat sources (cream, butter and other animal fat) you also decrease the levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol – and by that reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
‘Proteins (found in fish and vegetables) are important for many bodily functions, such as cell growth, immune system and enzymes.
‘By reducing the intake of processed red meat, as well as fatty animal protein sources, and, instead, choosing leaner protein sources (fish, poultry) or plant-based options (tofu, beans or lentils) you can reduce the risk of certain cancers.’
He adds: ‘The Nordic diet also features a wide variety of foods, without any strict restrictions, which are key to a sustainable way of eating.
‘Having too many restrictions or forbidden foods in one’s diet will only last for short periods of time and is not a sustainable lifestyle.’