The Nordic (or Scandinavian) Diet: A Beginner’s Guide

Nordic Diet

Around the world, the emphasis on eating healthfully is growing as many regions are concerned about the overreliance on ultra-processed foods and the health consequences that can come from eating too many calories and refined sugars or fats. One culture with a long-standing tradition of healthy eating is in the Nordic region, including Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The Nordic Diet is popular not only in the Nordic region but increasingly in other parts of the world, including the U.S.

So, what is the Nordic Diet, and how does it compare to other healthy diets like the Mediterranean Diet?

What Are the Key Components of the Nordic Diet?

Much like the Mediterranean Diet, the Nordic Diet focuses on whole, minimally processed foods. However, it’s tailored to the foods available in these countries. In addition, it strongly emphasizes making local, sustainable, and ethical food choices.

Foods you’ll find on a Nordic Diet menu include:

  • Whole grains, such as barley, oats, rye, and whole wheat. These are consumed as bread, cereals, and other whole-grain dishes.
  • Fruits and berries, especially those found in Nordic regions, like bilberries (similar to blueberries), lingonberries, and cloudberries, which are known for their rich antioxidant content.
  • A wide variety of vegetables, including root veggies like beets, carrots, and potatoes, along with leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage.
  • Fish and seafood play a significant role in the traditional Nordic Diet. In particular, you’ll find fatty fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring.
  • Beans, peas, other legumes, and nuts are abundant and provide quality protein and healthy fats.
  • While much of the diet is focused on plant-based foods and seafood, quality meats, especially game meats and poultry, are also eaten in moderation.
  • Low-fat dairy, especially fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, are also part of the diet and help promote gut health.
  • While the Mediterranean Diet provides more olive oil, the fats in the Nordic Diet are more likely from fatty fish, seeds (e.g., flaxseed), and nuts. Cooking oil tends to be canola (or rapeseed) oil rather than olive oil.

One of the most important factors in the Nordic Diet is the focus on sustainability and ethical eating. The diet encourages organic, locally sourced foods, seasonally available produce, and sustainably caught seafood. This not only reduces the environmental impact of food production but also helps make the diet more affordable and supports the local economy.

In addition, with the Nordic Diet, you’ll eat less ultra-processed foods high in added sugars, salts, and refined, unhealthy fats, additives, and preservatives. Instead, the diet encourages people to eat foods in their most natural forms and reduce red meat consumption.

Nordic Diet

A Coffee-Loving Culture

Coffee plays a significant role in the Nordic Diet and lifestyle. You may have heard of “Fika,” a cherished Swedish tradition that transcends a mere coffee break. Fika encourages you to pause during the day to relax. It embodies a moment of leisure and warmth and often combines a warming coffee or tea with a small baked good or light snack. “Fika” allows people to stop rushing through the day and connect with each other.

Even in countries that don’t partake in Fika, coffee is deeply ingrained in the Nordic culture. In fact, Nordic countries have some of the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world. Coffee is enjoyed throughout the day, at home and in the workplace, and is appreciated for its taste, as a way to pause during a busy day, and for its social aspects. It’s common to have multiple coffee breaks throughout the day, and coffee is considered a social beverage that symbolizes hospitability.

The focus of the snack that’s often included in the pause is on quality over quantity. It often features a high-quality homemade treat, eaten in moderation. Yes, pastries, cakes, or biscuits are frequently included; however, they’re more likely to be made with whole, minimally processed ingredients. And the serving size is small, which is consistent with the rest of the diet.

Fika isn’t explicitly part of the Nordic Diet, but its essence of mindfulness and community aligns with the diet’s principles of balance, well-being, and enjoyment of food with others. It’s all about balance, moderation, and mindfulness. To better adhere to the “diet,” you may choose whole grain bread, fruit, or yogurt along with your coffee or tea rather than a small pastry.

Nordic Diet


While the Mediterranean Diet includes red wine as part of the diet, the Nordic Diet’s approach to alcohol is mindful and moderate, which coincides with its attitude toward foods. Alcohol isn’t encouraged; rather, it’s recognized as part of social gatherings and cultural practices. The drinks chosen, however, lean more toward the options available in this region, such as mead, cider, wine, or spirits traditionally produced. Again, many people choose local options.

Movement as Part of Life

As with the Mediterranean Diet, the Nordic Diet includes exercise as an essential lifestyle component. In addition, it strongly emphasizes enjoying nature and incorporating movement into your days for a holistic view of health.

For instance, Nordic countries have a strong tradition of engaging in outdoor activities like walking, cycling, hiking, skiing, and swimming to better connect with nature. Not only do these types of activities provide physical exercise, they also promote greater mental well-being, which comes with spending more time in nature.

Nordic cultures are known for adapting activities for each season. That means skiing and ice skating in the winter, while hiking, cycling, and swimming are enjoyed throughout the warmer months. Movement is also baked into daily routines. For example, the Nordic lifestyle promotes active commuting (e.g., walking or cycling to work), taking the stairs over elevators, and working at standing desks.

Another core component of the Nordic lifestyle is seeing physical activity as social. The culture embraces group sports, community fitness events, and family outings to ski, ice skate, hike, cycle, etc. Regular physical activities amplify the Nordic Diet’s health benefits, including enhanced mental health and well-being.

Nordic Walking as part of the Nordic Diet

Health Benefits of the Nordic Diet

Like the Mediterranean Diet, there are numerous health benefits to following the Nordic Diet, as supported by science. This isn’t surprising as the diet focuses on whole foods, high fiber, quality protein, and healthy fats combined with moderation and mindfulness.

Some of the research health benefits of this diet include:

  • Weight management: Again, with a diet that’s high in fiber from healthy whole foods like grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, you’ll feel fuller for longer, which can help you eat fewer calories. Reducing the consumption of high-calorie, ultra-processed foods can naturally lead to a calorie deficit, essential for managing or even losing weight. Studies have found that the Nordic Diet can also improve body composition, especially when combined with regular exercise.
  • Improved Heart Health: Research suggests the Nordic Diet may positively affect cardiovascular health due to the emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids and rich intake of antioxidants from fruits and berries. Eating a diet high in these types of foods may help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol profiles.
  • Decreased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Eating a diet that’s high in whole grains, fiber, quality proteins, and other lower glycemic index foods can help regulate blood sugar levels. This is important for the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
  • Fight Excess Inflammation: Many of the foods found in the Nordic Diet are also rich in anti-inflammatory compounds. Chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases, so a diet rich in foods that help the body fight excess inflammation may help support overall health and prevent certain conditions.
  • Brain Health Support: Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins found in the Nordic Diet may also support brain health and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
  • Sustainability: It’s not only important to protect the health of our bodies but also the health of the world around us. Considering a food’s sustainability, seeking locally produced foods, and being more involved in your community have been found to enhance well-being and fulfillment. It’s worth noting that many of the countries in this part of the world rank as some of the happiest.

Of course, the benefits of the Nordic Diet vary based on overall lifestyle choices, how well people adhere to the diet, and other factors. That said, eating the healthy, whole foods included in the Nordic Diet is key to long-term health and wellness.

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How to Start the Nordic Diet

If you’re interested in the Nordic Diet, you can ease in by incorporating more of the staple foods, like whole grains, vegetables, berries, and fish, into your diet as you eat less ultra-processed foods. You’ll also want to be more mindful of sustainability and local sourcing when possible.

Remember, the Nordic Diet isn’t just about the foods you eat. It’s a sustainable lifestyle that emphasizes the quality and sourcing of food with an ethical framework. It showcases how regional dietary practices from areas like Scandinavia can be adapted to promote health, sustainability, and enjoyment of local food traditions no matter where you live.