For many years, a Mediterranean diet has been considered the best for our bodies. It's easy to see why - fresh, seasonal produce, cooked from scratch combined with a healthy approach to exercise. Simple.
But now that we’re obsessed with all things Scandinavian, it’s perhaps no surprise that the traditional diet of Northern Europe is also having a resurgence. And with new findings showing that eating the Nordic way can help reduce blood pressure and encourage weight loss, it’s easy to see why.
In fact, the Nordic diet has recently been credited with helping to improve cognitive function, and preventing dementia too. Research presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) showed that following the ‘Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern (NPDP)’, a diet high in root vegetables, poultry, fish and fruit and vegetables, was actually found to reduce cognitive decline.
The study found that this kind of diet, combined with physical activity, could help to prevent diseases such as dementia and Alzheimers.
Commenting on the news, Alzheimer’s Society Dr Doug Brown, said, “This study looked at the Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern and how eating well and exercising could reduce cognitive decline.
“These results support the findings of our own funded research into how what we eat can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking. Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, but there are things we can all do now to help lower our chances of developing the condition, including healthy eating and keeping our body and mind active.”
Denmark’s favourite female chef, Trina Hahnemann has updated and re-released her bestselling book, The Nordic Diet (Quadrille Publishing; £12.99) as a guide to getting in shape by eating the Scandinavian way.
Could The Nordic Diet help you lose weight?
It’s actually quite simple. The Scandinavian lifestyle is considered incredibly healthy and focuses on natural good-for-you foods. Rather than snacking on processed foods, overdoing it on the red meat or shying away from exercise; the Danes, Norwegians, Swedish and Finns eat a balanced diet of homemade dishes that use seasonal, local ingredients – many of which are grown in their gardens.
The kitchen really is the centrepoint of Scandinavian life. Healthy, homecooked food brings everyone together at the end of a long day, to talk, unwind and enjoy themselves as they eat. That's why the Nordic Diet is so refreshing - it's all about getting joy from good food rather than watching every last bite.
'Every evening we will be in the kitchen', Trina explains. 'In my house [the kitchen] is both office, living room and the place where I create all my recipes. We will all be talking, our daughter doing her homework, her friends hanging out, our son coming by, neighbours dropping by, our lives being lived. And lives should be lived in the kitchen: cooking, baking and talking, eating, tasting and being there together.'
For healthy meal inspiration, read our list of 9 of the best healthy cookbooks to buy in 2017.
The Nordic Diet isn't a prescriptive weight-loss plan. It's about getting back to basics so that you can make a real difference to your health, waistline and happiness. But that does mean making a few changes to the way we eat now:
- Meals must be balanced with a focus on whole grains and seasonal produce
- Cooking from scratch is a must, including baking your own bread
- Eat less often, avoid sugar, too much salt and junk food and exercise for at least thirty minutes every day
- Up your fruit and vegetables - aim for six portions a day
- Eat veggie meals and fish twice a week at least, limit meat to three meals a week and cut back on dairy
- Enjoy cooking and eating! The kitchen should be the centre-point of your house and mealtimes should be shared with friends and family as much as possible
- Take time over your food. Lay the table even if you're eating alone, sit down and eat slowly - a meal should take 30 minutes to eat
- Food should be naturally healthy so you don't have to count calories
'The Nordic Diet builds on tradition, but it is also very much a modern everyday cuisine incorporating influences from other cultures', Trina explains. 'It is based on the produce avaliable in the Northern hemisphere...[and] offers such a balance, with its focus on lots of different whole grains, root and green vegetables, locally-caught fish and game, grass-fed lamb and free-range poultry.
'It comes allied with a growing organic, eco-conscious movement and a focus on seasonality, so that during the year we dine more or less according to what nature has to offer.'
'We have a saying in Denmark: 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing'. We bicycle a lot: to work, when we go shopping, and with our children. You do your bit for the environment, plus it's cheap and you get regular exercise built in to your daily routine', Trina says.
'It is so important to understand that, no matter how healthily you eat, exercise is still a key to health and happiness. If you don't exercise already, choose something you like...find people to exercise with, set goals, make a bet as an incentive to continue.'
Trina recommends doing at least 30 minutes exercise every day.
The Nordic Diet isn't designed specifically for weight loss. It's about getting a lifestyle balance so you feel well. But, if you do decide to pick up Trina's book and follow her meal plans to slim down, what can you expect?
Simply changing what you're eating, when and how much will obviously make a difference. Trina suggests eating six meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner plus two snacks), moving around 20% of the time and exercising two to three times a week if you want to lose weight steadily.
Breakfast is usually wholegrain-based (porridge or rye bread), lunch is homemade soup or a rye bread sandwich with protein like smoked fish or eggs, and at dinner you'll tuck into a fish, meat or veggie dish with lots of vegetables, potatoes or bread and a fresh salad on the side. Sounds good to us!
Keep clicking for some of Trina's favourite Nordic Diet dishes...
'Mullet is a perfect summer fish that is easy to grill because its flesh is nice and firm. It goes well with the tasty but sour gooseberries.'
Photography by Lars Ranek
'Rhubarb and chicken make a perfect match and a very tasty spring dish when the rhubarb is in season. Rhubarb is also fantastic as a savoury vegetable.'
Photography by Lars Ranek
'I use these sweet and nutty buns as 'power snacks' to take with me when I go walking in the early morning at weekends.'
Photography by Lars Ranek
For more recipes, lifestyle tips and exercise goals buy The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann (Quadrille Publishing; £12.99).