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Move Over Mediterranean Diet, The Nordic Diet is Also Heart-Healthy

Nordic Diet, cholesterol, inflammation

Eating a diet based on foods found in the Nordic countries has been found to have substantial health benefits. A Lund University study finds that healthy foods often consumed in countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland lowers cholesterol levels and decreases inflammation.

Lieselotte Cloetens, a biomedical nutrition researcher, used data that initially included 200 patients with an average age of 55 years and who all had signs of the metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms that greatly increases risk for heart disease. Half of the participants consumed a diet based on Nordic eating patterns while the other half received a more “Western Style” diet.

The patients in the experimental group consumed local produce such as berries, root vegetables, legumes, and cabbage. Nuts, game, poultry and fish were also included, as well as whole grains, canola oil and low-fat dairy products. The control group consumed butter instead of canola oil, less fruits and vegetables, and had no limits on less healthful choices such as red meat, white bread and sweet drinks.

Unfortunately, says Cloetens, there was a considerable drop-out rate among the control group participants because they were disappointed that they were not getting healthier on their assigned diet plan.

The experimental group had far less drop-outs and also had better results from the diet. These volunteers had lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. There was also decreased inflammation associated with prediabetes. A signal protein known as IL-1 Ra decreased by 20%

The goal of the study was not weight loss, so the participants did not focus on calorie intake. However, this is the next area of study for the Lund researchers.

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There are similarities between the Mediterranean Diet and the Nordic Diet. Both use unsaturated oils (olive oil, canola oil) in place of saturated fats such as butter. Both diets focus on less meat and more fish intake, whole grains instead of refined, and plenty of (preferably local) fruits and vegetables.

Here are some simple principles of the Nordic diet that you can incorporate into your daily meal plan today:
• More fruit and vegetables every day:
Eat more cold-climate vegetables. These include beets, cauliflower, kale, rutabagas, cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes.
Add berries to your dishes. Blueberries, wild strawberries and others are rich in antioxidants and make great accompaniments to meals, snacks, and desserts.
Select organic produce whenever possible.

• More whole grains. Can we really say enough about getting rid of the white bread and white rice and switching to a more healthful whole grain?

• More food from the seas and lakes. The Nordic people eat fish at least three times a week, preferably wild fish.

• Consume game and free-range meats – but not too much. As people become increasingly aware of the dangers of farm-raised beef, poultry and pork fed huge amounts of unnecessary antibiotics, it is worth exploring other forms of protein, including venison.

• Additional tips include avoiding food additives, eating more meals cooked at home, and being less wasteful.

Lund University – News for the Media , No. 3, 2013
Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark – The delicious and healthy New Nordic Diet