Among overweight people at higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, switching to a Nordic-style healthy diet led to health improvements including blood glucose and lipid levels, according to a new study published in there journal Clinical Nutrition.
While it hasn’t received nearly as much attention as the more famous Mediterranean diet — attention that appears to be well deserved, based on the documented health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet — the Nordic diet also has shown promise in studies over the years. This healthy diet was designed by researchers in Iceland, Norway, and Finland in the early 2000s, and includes locally found ingredients such as root vegetables, rye, lingonberries, bilberries, mushrooms, salmon, herring, elk, and canola, flaxseed, and sunflower oils. While the nutritional composition of the Nordic diet resembles that of the Mediterranean diet in many ways — including its emphasis on healthy plant oils, whole grains, and lean sources of animal protein — its recommendations are rooted in foods associated with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, as noted in an article on the new study at Science Focus.
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For the latest study, researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark recruited 200 overweight or obese volunteers ages 50 and older from Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. Half of the participants were randomly chosen to continue following their regular diet, while half were asked to follow the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations that were created in 2012. Participants had blood and urine samples taken at the beginning of the study, as well as after six months of following either their normal diet or the Nordic diet.
Nordic diet linked to improved health measures
The researchers found that after six months, participants who followed the Nordic diet were healthier by a number of different measures — including lower levels of blood lipids (both cholesterol and triglycerides) and better blood glucose regulation. This happened even though participants in the Nordic diet group didn’t lose weight. In fact, they were specifically discouraged from losing weight — researchers aimed to keep the group weight-stable by asking them to eat more if they noticed any weight loss. Based on a detailed analysis of participants’ blood the researchers determined that the health benefits were probably linked to the healthy fat component of the Nordic diet, since participants who followed this diet had higher levels of healthier unsaturated fats in their blood than did participants who followed their standard diet. But members of the Nordic diet group also had biomarkers in their blood showing they ate more berries, fish, and whole grains, not just more healthy plant oils.
The researchers concluded that based on a detailed blood analysis, participants who were asked to follow the Nordic diet showed good compliance with these recommendations — as well as potentially beneficial changes to blood glucose and lipid markers. These findings, they wrote, may be used to assess how adherence to a Nordic diet is related to other long-term health outcomes in future studies.
Want to learn more about the Nordic diet? Read “Make Room, Mediterranean Diet: There’s a New Diet In Town” and “Nordic Diet.”