Nordic Diet Aids Blood Sugar, Cholesterol

It’s easy to think of diets as falling into just two categories — standard and fad. While we often talk about the Mediterranean diet, many of us don’t think about how different diets are around the world. Each culture has its own way of eating and its own staples. It goes beyond just recipes or style of cooking to the amounts people eat, the food choices and the ways it’s consumed.

One diet you rarely hear about is the Nordic diet. But that is about to change. People who follow the Nordic diet for six months lower their blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The results occur even in people who didn’t lose weight.

It’s surprising because most people believe that positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol are solely due to weight loss. Here, we have found this not to be the case. Other mechanisms are also at play,” Lars Ove Dragsted, a researcher at the Univ. of Copenhagen.

The diet is heady in fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, low-fat dairy and vegetables that grow in cool climates. It’s not a meat-heavy diet. It does contain a lot of healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds and can lower the risk of heart disease. Because it’s high in protein, healthy fat and fiber, people who follow it tend to feel fuller after eating less food. Because of that, it has been promoted as a weight-loss diet. But, this study found that the fat from the fish, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds and rapeseeds in the diet offer health benefits, not just weight loss.  

By analyzing the blood of participants, we could see that those who benefited most from the dietary change had different fat-soluble substances than the control group. These are substances that appear to be linked to unsaturated fatty acids from oils in the Nordic diet. This is a sign that Nordic dietary fats probably play the most significant role for the health effects seen here, which I hadn’t expected,” said Lars Ove Dragsted. “We can only speculate as to why a change in fat composition benefits our health so greatly. However, we can confirm that the absence of highly processed food and less saturated fats from animals, have a very positive effect on us. So, the fat composition in the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats, is probably a considerable part of the explanation for the health effects we find from the Nordic diet, even when the weight of participants remains constant.”

The team believes that there are other big health bonuses to the diet in addition to the inclusion of healthy fats. There is very little processed food. There is also very little saturated fat. And the diet is very high in fiber. All of that adds up to benefits, even if a person doesn’t lose weight.  

Banner image: John O’Nolan via Unsplash

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