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What is the new Nordic diet?

The Mediterranean diet has been the Ferrari of the diet circuit for a while now. You can’t pour olive oil on your salad without hearing new research showing how the Mediterranean way of feeding yourself does everything from protect your heart to make you live longer. Other cuisine from around the world slinks humbly into the background behind the potted plants when the Mediterranean Diet enters the room. Could this be about to change though as “New Nordic” cuisine makes its entry to the health stage?

For the study researchers from Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway focused their efforts through Lund University and set out to design a healthy Nordic diet around locally produced food items, like herring, rapeseed oil (also known as canola) and bilberries (a relative of the blueberry). To test whether it was actually healthy, they gave the diet to people with metabolic syndrome and compared them to others on an average Nordic diet higher in red meat and white bread.

The healthy Nordic diet led to lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol and higher levels of good HDL cholesterol.

The study lasted for 18-24 weeks in 2009 and 2010 and involved the healthy Nordic diet group eating mostly berries (currants, bilberries and strawberries), canola oil, whole grains, root vegetables and three fish meals (preferably fatty fish like salmon and mackerel) per week, and avoiding sugar. They could eat vegetarian, poultry or game, but no red meat.

The other group ate butter instead of canola, fewer berries and vegetables, and had no restrictions on red meat, white bread or sugar intake.

The healthy Nordic diet led to lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol and higher levels of good HDL cholesterol. Additionally, there were less indicators of inflammation in the blood of the healthy Nordic diet group. The change in inflammation was estimated to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20-40 per cent.

So it looks good for the Nordic diet but we really need to take this kind of news with a grain of saltur.

For a start, the diet studied here was not really a typically Nordic diet, but was a modified diet with some bad elements removed and some healthy options included. You could make the same changes to any cuisine get the same positive outcomes. Secondly, it warrants a few moments of reflection on rapeseed (canola) oil.

The unfortunate name rapeseed derives from the Latin name for turnip. Rapeseed oil was bitter and contained high levels of something called erucic acid, which is toxic, especially for young children. In 1956, the American FDA banned rapeseed for human use. Then, in 1978, the Western Canadian Oilseed Crushers Association registered a product called canola, derived from Canadian Oil, Low Acid.

Canola contains seven per cent saturated fat compared to 51 per cent in butter. It is also reasonable source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Provided canola oil has not been hydrogenated to improve stability, therefore introducing trans fats, this oil is not too bad although there are concerns around its genetic nature.

Traditional hybrid cultivation was originally used to produce canola from rapeseed. However, since the original release of canola oil into the marketplace, many different forms of genetically engineered canola have been produced. If you want to try a New Nordic diet experience then to make sure that you are avoiding all genetic engineering, use organic canola oil.

In the end, the healthy version of the Nordic diet is fine, but then it is really just a healthy diet. Call it Nordic if you want to, but health by any other name still smells as sweet.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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