in Healthy Eating

7 min read

This article talks about a healthy eating guideline modeled by the known historical information of how Vikings ate in addition to modern knowledge about what comprises a healthy diet and how to design a sustainable eating pattern. The New Nordic Diet is the result of a 5-year research project from Denmark. It is considered to be environmentally friendly with all the foods originating in Denmark, one of the main countries where Vikings have resided back in the day.

The New Nordic Diet

The guideline itself was constructed with some basic principles in mind. These are health, gastronomic potential, Nordic identity, and sustainability of the eaten foods. By combining these they succeeded in creating an eating recommendation that goes beyond simply eating healthy but also takes into account identity of a culture and environmental sustainability. The new Nordic diet revolves around 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.

While the majority of calories in this eating recommendation come from plant foods, with a smaller emphasis on meat, the new Nordic diet at the same time stresses the importance of food coming from the sea, lakes, and the wild countryside.

More exactly?

The basic premise of the new Nordic diet is to lower the amount of meat and increase the number of vegetables, herbs, nuts, fruits, legumes, and grains that are being eaten. The logic behind this is the positive impact witnessed when abiding by a plant-based diet and the evidence-based health benefits of some of the mentioned food groups.

If you have read my all-encompassing evidence-based food guide, you will be able to connect the dots. In the unfortunate case that you did not, here is a recap:

  • Eating more than 600 grams 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

And while correlation does not equal causation, generally eating nutrient-dense food which does not entail any of the foodstuffs that could potentially harm you, is probably very good common-sense advice your grandmother would give you (and for which scientific training is not required to be viewed as preferable).

The emphasis on sea-based food such as fish and shellfish is not a big shocker either. I have covered the potential physical and mental health benefits of omega-3 in my articles in the past.

They recommend mixing it up and varying between lean and fatty fish, as well as other marine-based species. Another recommendation is seaweed due to its 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. However, while a foodstuff may have such properties, this does not necessarily mean that you will benefit from such food on that characteristic. To establish this, one would need to run a double-blind placebo-controlled study to witness whether any antiviral or anticancer benefits have been observed.

The emphasis for more food to come from the wild countryside is reasonable too. Such plants are usually more nutrient-dense 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. I have covered what oxidative stress, antioxidants, and free radicals in another post.

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.

How to eat like a Viking?

If we switched to the new Nordic diet, our caloric composition would be as follows:

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

That is around 700+ grams of fruits and vegetables. Berries make up between 50 and 100 grams, cabbages at least 30 grams, root vegetables more than 150 grams, and legumes more than 30 grams. Special emphasis is also put on fresh herbs. There should be less than 140 grams of potatoes, around 5 grams of plants and mushrooms from the wild countryside, more than 75 grams of whole grains, more than 30 grams of nuts, more than 45 grams of fish and shellfish, 5 grams of seaweed, and between 85 and 100 grams 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 100 grams of meat for its iron content. 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 between  5 to 6 grams 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. An important caveat here is that this was not designed as a weight loss study. It was simply a study to assess the new eating pattern and see whether the new Nordic diet can be easily added in daily life. People 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 to 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 and  3.2mmHg more than in the group with the average Danish diet.

One caveat that comes with this diet are the 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 they contain. Namely, 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: The old Vikings did not 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.
  • The new Nordic diet is a plant-based diet with fewer calories coming 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 as these should not have any toxic compounds that are potentially harmful for human culinary use.

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?

References used: [1, 2]

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  1. 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.

    • Hi schurch,

      while your arguments are well worth the read, you completely miss the point by failing to acknowledge that the article talks about a scientific recommendation partially inspired by historical facts and sustainable agriculture together with modern knowledge about what comprises a healthy diet. The scientists were inspired by the Viking diet and how the Vikings ate and then considered how this could be transferred to a modern eating recommendation (dubbed the new Nordic diet). I agree that it is very similar to cutting diets but the main emphasis here is on sustainability and reducing the environmental cost of the diet if people abide by it not about historical accuracy and complete correctness as to how the Vikings ate in the past. It’s perhaps more about how their descendants can eat today and minimise their collective environmental footprint.