By John Salak –
Let’s face it, the Vikings in all those television shows almost always look amazing. Big and healthy with great skin and flowing blond hair. Yes, they theoretically spend a lot of time in nature, and of course, they’re definitely into rowing, rampaging and pillaging. But are there other factors involved in their appearance, like diet? Maybe.
All those marauders can attribute their beautiful and healthy outlook to the increasingly popular Nordic diet, a nutritional cousin to the famed Mediterranean Diet. The Nordic version focuses on berries, vegetables, fish, whole grains and rapeseed oil. Its popularity has been growing over the last decade because it is tasty, healthy and sustainable. It is a great way to lose weight, which brings ancillary benefits.
Now it appears the diet has health benefits, whether they lose weight or not. The research on this diet came out of the University of Copenhagen. “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,” reported Lars Ove Dragsted, a researcher and the head of the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.
The Copenhagen team, supported by researchers from Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, discovered the diet’s impact by examining blood and urine samples from 200 people over 50, all with elevated BMI and increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The individuals split into two groups, one focused on the Nordic diet for six months, while the section consumed a habitual or non-Nordic diet.
“The group that had been on the Nordic diet for six months became significantly healthier, with lower cholesterol levels, lower overall levels of both saturated and unsaturated fat in the blood, and better regulation of glucose, compared to the control group. We kept the group on the Nordic diet weight stable, meaning that we asked them to eat more if they lost weight. Even without weight loss, we could see an improvement in their health,” added Dragsted.
The diet’s unsuspected benefits may stem from its unique composition of fats. “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 play the most significant role for the health effects seen here, which I hadn’t expected,” Dragsted noted.
The Nordic diet primarily delivers fat from fish, flaxseed, sunflower and rapeseed (Canola). It’s a beneficial mix for the body, although the researchers admit that they really can’t explain why these fats seem to lower both blood sugar and cholesterol levels. “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 positive effect on us. So, the fat composition in the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats, is a considerable part of the explanation for the health effects we find from the Nordic diet, even when the weight of participants remains constant,” Dragsted concluded.
The diet itself has been around for a while, although it was a traditional approach to nutrition seen in Nordic countries like Norway, Denmark and Iceland. It consists of whole foods found in the region, including plant-based seasonal foods that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
One primary difference between the Nordic and Mediterranean diets is the different oils. The Mediterranean approach, not surprisingly, uses extra-virgin olive oil, while the Nordic Diet uses canola oil. “Generally, both are good unsaturated, healthy anti-inflammatory oils,” explained Courtney Barth, a registered dietician at the clinic. As noted by the research team, the Nordic diet has been famous for supporting weight loss, and the reason is simple. It encourages less sugar and twice the fiber as traditional western diets.
Okay, the great-looking actors in those epic television shows aren’t real Vikings. And admittedly, no one is sure exactly how good-looking the ancient Vikings were anyway. So, diving into the Nordic Diet isn’t guaranteed to transform anyone into a raging beauty. But this approach to eating isn’t going to hurt anyone’s looks and it offers some sizeable health benefits regardless.