Mia – January 1, 2019
I try to watch what I eat most of the year—with the occasional splurge, of course. But all bets are off during the six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. That’s the time of the year when food represents more than delicious sustenance and becomes a vehicle for tradition, memories and love.
Just as it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey and pumpkin pie, a Danish Christmas wouldn’t be Jul without pork and pickled herring, sausages and meatballs, roasted potatoes, Klejner cookies and risalamande pudding with cherry sauce. All of which are washed down with gløgg—the Scandinavian version of mulled wine—and other adult beverages.
After such feasting, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been scrolling through the infinite number of diet plans available online. This year, one immediately jumped out at me. It’s called the Nordic Diet, and it seems to be made-to-order for my Danish food preferences and, hopefully, my Scandinavian genes.
At first glance, the diet reads like a northern version of the Mediterranean Diet that has been so highly rated in recent years. Like its southern counterpart, the Nordic Diet emphasizes vegetables, fish, whole grains and healthful oils and limits sugar, dairy and meat.
But while the Mediterranean Diet is rich in olive oil, red wine and a rainbow of vegetables and fruits, the Nordic Diet reflects the shorter growing season of its region of origin. It features canola oil, berries (sea buckthorn and most other varieties), root vegetables such as parsnips, potatoes and rutabaga, cabbage, and oily fish, including herring, mackerel and salmon. Most of this actually sounds pretty good to me.
Nuts and seeds, legumes and whole grains have a place in both diets, although Nordic grains, including barley, oats and dark rye bread (known as rugbrød in Denmark), tend to be high in fiber. Trust me; once you get used to the bread’s chewy goodness, so perfect for creating smørrebrød piled high with dilled salmon or pretty much anything else, you will never go back to whatever bread you’re eating now.
Science has established both the Nordic and Mediterranean diets as lifetime eating plans that promote good health rather than quick weight-loss, although those who commit to this way of eating often do end up dropping pounds. In fact, it was Scandinavia’s much lower rate of obesity that led to the creation of the Nordic Diet back in 2004.
Judging from my lanky friend Farfar, who lives at The Danish Home, obesity has never been an issue in his 94 years. “We always ate whatever was in season, but not too much,” he told me. Although he left his native Denmark as a young man, he still enjoys the food of his homeland and looks forward to the days when medisterpolse, a spiced sausage, and frikadeller, meatballs, are on The Danish Home menu.
Aside from weight control, the Nordic Diet also is associated with several positive health benefits. The World Health Organization has recognized it as protective against high blood pressure and cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and inflammation. It’s also considered more affordable than the Mediterranean Diet, which makes it more realistic for lower-income families.
And if that weren’t enough to convince me to go Nordic, I learned the diet is considered quite “green.” That’s because plant-based eating is easier on the environment than meat-heavy eating plans. The diet’s emphasis on organic food that is grown close to home and eaten in season also gets high environmental marks.
As someone who grew up eating Scandinavian fare, the Nordic Diet is both welcome and familiar. I also like that it’s in tune with the concepts of hygge and lagom—comfort within an aesthetic of “just enough.”
I’ve started pulling recipes from the Internet—dishes that focus on the most healthful elements of Danish cuisine rather than the goodies we eat on holidays. I look forward to making this warm kale and barley salad with dill and this cod fish chowder. And when beets come back in season, I can’t wait to try this root vegetable and beet hash. By then I hope to have moved the needle on the scale.
Wish me luck, and Godt Nytår!