I’ve never been one for diets, fad or otherwise — but if I did follow one, it would probably be the Mediterranean diet. Out of all the dietary schemes out there, it’s the only that’s really been proven by research to improve your health. There’s a new contender in the ring, though, which might also be worth considering: The New Nordic diet. As you might suspect, it hales from Scandinavia, and research suggests that it’s good for you in pretty much the same way the Mediterranean diet is. It just consists of slightly different ingredients, all of which might help spice up your palate a little (and no, I'm not talking about IKEA meatballs).
The New Nordic diet seems to consist of two primary elements: The culinary aspect of it all, and the scientific and health-based one. Indeed, NPR wrote in 2013 that they were initially two separate movements that happened to share some common ground. Chef Claus Meyer, who owns the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Noma, penned a manifesto with the purpose of defining “New Nordic cuisine”; meanwhile, nutrition researchers based in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway conducted studies to develop a healthy diet for people living in Nordic areas. Both New Nordic cuisine and the nutrition researchers’ Nordic diet put the focus on locally available, whole ingredients: High amounts of berries, whole grains, root vegetables, canola oil, and fish, with little sugar and no red meat.
Sorry, Ed. Not this time.
As Quartz noted, Meyer’s manifesto describes a scheme “not so different from the Mediterranean diet in the sense that it promotes moderate consumption of fat, protein, and antioxidant-packed ingredients. What olive oil, buts, beans, and sardines are to the Mediterranean, canola oil, berries, root vegetables, and cod are to Scandinavia.” At the same time, the nutrition researchers found that the group of subjects consuming the Nordic diet saw significantly improved ratios of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol; additionally, there were changes in one marker for inflammation, which co-author Lieselotte Cloetens said “could result in a 20 to 40 percent reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes for people on the healthy diet.” Another recently published study supported the findings about inflammation at the genetic level; according to the Huffington Post, "as many as 128 genes displayed functional differences between the groups and the group that consumed the Nordic diet counted fewer inflammation-associated genes than the control group."
But writing about the New Nordic diet also suggests that the culinary and scientific aspects have merged together — or are at least both in consideration during the planning of New Nordic meals. Meyer has also helped develop diets for researchers that resulted in study participants losing an average of 3.1 kilos, or 6.8 pounds, over the course of 12 weeks; and again, it's kind of hard to miss the fact that the "cuisine" version and the "science diet" version contain pretty much the same foods.
The one thing that might make the New Nordic diet kind of hard to follow is the fact that is was designed to make use of ingredients that are plentiful in Scandinavia — ingredients which can be harder to find in the rest of the world. But again, if we look at it as a mode of thinking, rather than a strict plan or dietary roadmap, maybe it’s not so difficult after all. Don’t have access to bilberries? Go for blueberries instead. Not a huge cod or herring fan? Salmon will work just as well. Wrote Svati Kirsten Narula at Quartz, “Olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers aren’t mentioned [in the New Nordic diet] — but that’s just because those things don’t grow in Scandinavia, not because they’re ‘bad.’ If tomatoes or olives exist in a wild landscape near you, then eat them!”
I think it’s worth noting that there’s a difference between “diets” the way we typically tend to think of them — fad diets, crash diets, and other plans that we temporarily adopt in an effort to shed a few pounds, then give up once we’ve reached our “goal” — and ones like the Mediterranean and New Nordic ones. Kate Christensen was onto something when she wrote in Vogue, “Like the widely hailed Mediterranean diet… the New Nordic scheme is not so much a set meal plan as a way of thinking about eating.” It’s not about performing some sort of miracle “quick fix” on yourself; it’s about maintaining your health as a way of life. The word “diet” has come such a long way from simply meaning “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” that maybe we need a new term for modes of eating like the New Nordic scheme — one that gets back to the actual roots of what “diet” once meant.
Anyway, as always, I feel like the takeaway from all this is pretty simple: Eat lots of fruits and veggies, fish is good, meat is fine in moderation, go for whole grains, swap your butter out for olive or canola oil, and avoid processed foods and sugar. We’ve only got one body in this lifetime; we may as well treat it well, right?