Every region in the world has its own unique dishes and dietary patterns. Researchers have paid close attention to the types of foods commonly eaten in areas that have low rates of chronic disease.
The Mediterranean diet emerged from this kind of research originally in the 1970’s. One of the latest contenders as far as a regional diet goes is based on the Scandinavian area and is known as the Nordic Diet.
So, what is the big fuss about these diets and is one superior to the other?
The traditional Mediterranean diet is based on the foods commonly eaten through countries in the Mediterranean basin (Spain, France, Italy etc.). It has been linked to lower rates of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. This diet burst into popular culture in the middle of the 90’s as numerous food pyramids reflecting this way of eating were created and promoted as a healthy diet guide.
The Nordic diet is based on the traditional foods eaten in Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden etc.). A group of nutritionists, scientists and chefs coined the phrase and created ‘The Nordic diet’ in 2004 to counteract the rising rates of obesity and environmentally damaging farming practices in those countries.
Structure of the diets
Looking at this table you can see there are not many differences between the diets. Both are heavily plant-based and discourage the consumption of processed foods. There are slight differences in the main types of oil recommended, the frequency of protein-rich foods and the main types of carbohydrate-type foods. The differences mainly come down to the traditional availability of foods in each region.
The proven health benefits of the Mediterranean diet include:
- reduced risk of heart disease
- cholesterol-lowering effects
- reduced blood pressure
- improved blood glucose control
There is less scientific evidence backing the effectiveness of the Nordic diet compared to the Mediterranean diet. It is likely that similar health benefits would be experienced on both diets, and the lack of evidence is mainly due to the Nordic diet being around for a shorter period of time.
The verdict Both diets promote the consumption of whole unprocessed foods in moderate amounts. Both diets are likely to lead to some weight loss and improved health if they replace a diet full of processed foods and takeaways. Neither diet is a ‘quick fix’ for better health. The foundation of both diets can be used to create long-term sustainable changes to eating habits for better health. In order to truly embrace either style of eating, you may need to spend time eating and travelling in each region.
(Note: there are other diets such as the Japanese Okinawa diet where people live for many years, but these are often quite specific in terms of the geographical area in which the people live, and the type of food eaten.)
Bach-Faig, A, Berry, E, Lairon, D, Regunt, J et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates. 2011. Public Health Nutrition 14(12A), 2274-2284. Mithril, C, Dragsted, LO, Meyer, C et al. (2012) Guidelines for the New Nordic Diet. Public Health Nutrition 15, 1941–1947. Dietitians of Canada. The Mediterranean Diet: A Guide to Healthy Eating. 2017.