How To Eat Like a Viking? The New Nordic Diet

This post is a summary of a healthy eating guideline that has been proposed by our Northern brothers. The Danes have come up with the New Nordic diet. This guideline is the result of a 5-year research project, it’s considered to be environmentally friendly, and is based on foods that originate from Denmark – one of the main countries where Vikings have resided back in the day.

The guideline itself was constructed with some basic principles in mind. These are: health, gastronomic potential, Nordic identity, and sustainability of the eaten foods.

They have succeeded in combining the existing scientific knowledge about nutrition with the above-mentioned principles. Its main food groups are fruits, vegetables, shellfish, nuts, whole grains, and potatoes. The main idea behind this guideline is that more emphasis should be put on what is actually being eaten, and not so much on the food we should be avoiding.

The New Nordic Diet gets the main body of its calories from plant foods, a little less from meat. At the same time, there is a strong emphasis for the food to stem out of the sea, lakes, and the wild countryside.

So why exactly?

Their basic premise for this guideline is to lower the amount of meat, and increase the amount of vegetables, herbs, nuts, fruits, legumes, and grains. The reason for this are the positive impacts that some of the mentioned food groups can have for your health.

If you have read my Chapter I posts, you will be able to connect the dots. In the unfortunate case that you didn’t, here is a recap:

  • Eating more than 600g of fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, being overweight, and obese
  • Whole grains have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and weight gain risk
  • The starchy plant foods offer a good source of vitamins, fiber, and minerals

The emphasis on sea-based food, such as fish and shellfish, is not a big shocker either – I have covered it extensively in my omega-3 articles.

They recommend mixing it up and varying between lean and fatty fish, as well as other marine-based species. Another recommendation is seaweed, it has high contents of essential minerals, protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and essential fatty acids.

Furthermore, seaweed may have antiviral and anticancer effects, as it has certain bio-active compounds. Drugs with antiviral effects are a class of medication specifically used to treat viral infections such as HIV, different herpes viruses, influenza, hepatitis etc.

The emphasis for more food to come from the wild countryside is reasonable too. Such plants are usually more nutritious since they contain higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and secondary plant metabolites than conventionally grown plants. Among these are vitamin C, E, phenols, and other compounds that increase the antioxidant level in plants. Antioxidants are molecules that have a neat little property. They prevent oxidation of other molecules. And why is that awesome? Because oxidation leads to free radicals, which, after a chain of events, can kill cells in certain circumstances if they are present in abundant numbers. And that is not really something you would want.

Furthermore, meat from wild animals and fowl has less fat and a healthier fatty acid composition in general. This fatty acid composition includes more PUFAs and less saturated fats, compared to conventionally raised animals. A healthier fatty acid composition is a good reason they emphasize more meat from wild animals.

To crunch some numbers

If we switched to the New Nordic Diet, our caloric composition would be as follows:

    • Fat – 30%
    • Carbs – 55%
    • Protein – 15%
    • Alcohol – 5%

That is around 700g + of fruits and vegetables. Berries make up around 50-100g, cabbages at least 30g, root vegetables more than 150g, and legumes more than 30g. Special emphasis is also put on fresh herbs. There should be less than 140g of potatoes, around 5g of plants and mushrooms from the wild countryside, more than 75g of whole grains, more than 30 g of nuts, more than 45 g of fish and shellfish, 5g of seaweed, and around 85-100g of free-range livestock which includes pigs and poultry.

It also satisfies all the micronutrient recommendations. However, some consideration should be put on vitamin D and iron. Pregnant women should eat at least around 100g of meat for its iron contents. Everyone should make sure their diet is rich in vitamin D as well, this is something that becomes more important for people who live in climates with less available sun. They have not put any limit on salt, however, they recommend an intake of around 5-6g per day.

And a little science to back it up. There has been a randomized controlled trial with a relatively large sample; N = 120. Obese people were divided into two groups, one consumed the average Danish diet, while the other the New Danish Diet for six months.

Those eating the latter lost around 4,5 kg on average, while the former lost around 1,9 kg. This means there was still a difference of 2,6 kg as a direct result of the New Nordic diet. It’s also very important to note that this was not designed as a weight loss study. It was just a study in which the participants were administered a new eating pattern. They went to a dummy shop, set up by the scientists from the study, once per week. There they could buy food that was in adherence with the eating pattern of their group. After the end of the study, people with the New Danish Diet observed their systolic and diastolic blood pressure drop by 5,1 mmHg and by 3,2 respectively, when they were compared to the average Danish diet.

There is a warning when it comes to this diet though. We should be careful when it comes to wild plants in terms of their known compounds. Eating larger amounts of wild roots and other wild plants could be potentially dangerous, at least if we are not sure which compounds do they contain – these might be toxic or even deadly for human consumption. Picking and eating only those you are familiar with should be a rule of thumb.

PS: Granted, the old Vikings did not really have any potatoes at their disposal, considering that they were brought at a later time from another continent.

Summary

  • Strong emphasis on vegetables, fruits, nuts, shellfish, whole grains, and potatoes
  • It’s a plant-based diet, less calories come from meat
  • Meat, as well as some roots, fruit, and vegetables, should come from the countryside
  • The majority of calories come from carbs (55%), then fat (30%), and protein (15%).
  • Some consideration should be put into picking wild plants which could have toxic compounds unfit for human consumption

After reading this, do you think you could abide by such eating guidelines? I am especially curious about the natives of Denmark, what do you think about this guideline? Furthermore, do you think Ragnar and the other Vikings would eat like this?

References used: [1, 2]

About Author

Sebastijan Veselic

BSc in Psychology, currently doing a MSc in Cognitive science. Pursuing and interested in many academic and scientific disciplines and topics, as well as some less so. These include, but are not limited to, cute cats on the internet.

  • Kate

    Except, you know potatoes are from the new world, and Vikings didn’t have access to them.

  • Of course I do, that’s why I wrote that down in the article :)

  • schurch

    Reducing meat isn’t a nordic diet at all. Changing from predominantly red meat to fish with the occasional pork thrown in is. The largest part of the Norse diet came from fish and dairy products so your nutrient profiles are completely skewed. If you want to eat a true Nordic diet based on archeological evidence you should start eating a lot of fish, cheese, eggs and yogurt and supplementing with berries and non-starchy root vegetables like carrots, onions and leeks. Whole grain bread made an appearance after contact with the rest of Europe but remained a fairly small portion of the diet. Your macro nutrient profile should look closer to 35% protein 20% fat and 45% carbs (which alcohol is, no need to break it out). You’ll likely be short on vitamins D and E according to nutrient databases but there is argument that the ammount of vitamin D and E reported for fish is low due to failure to take bio-availability into account. The diet above is nothing more than a standard cutting diet with a reduced protein amount. It’s not Nordic in any way shape or form.

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