Could the Nordic Diet stop obesity?

Books, Food politics
Could the Nordic Diet stop obesity? post image

There should be little doubt that Britain has a problem with its’ weight.

Current estimates rate the level of obesity at around a quarter of the population.

That’s a lot of big people.

The traditional British diet, heavy in saturated fats and carbohydrates, added to an ever more sedentary lifestyle would seem to be the cause of the problem.

But what about the solution?

A Mediterranean diet of olive oil, fish, and vegetables has been the cornerstone of ‘healthy eating’ for the last generation, but scientists have noticed that the Scandinavian know the odd thing about healthy eating, too.

A broadly Nordic diet shares many of the same characteristics as that of it’s southern neighbours, replacing olive for rapeseed oil, Mediterranean vegetables for brassicas and citrus fruits for cold climate berries.

The University of Copenhagen is funding a study into regional Scandinavian food aimed at identifying a canon of ingredients to rival the famed Mediterranean diet in terms of nutrition and taste.

The principles of a Nordic diet are simple, based around a few core principles:

  • eat more fish
  • eat less meat, and when you do eat meat, eat lean game meat such as venison
  • brassicas are intrinsically healthy, packed with vitamins and antioxidants.  They can taste good.
  • a couple of meals a week should be vegetarian
  • cut down on saturated fat

It all seems quite sensible.  But does it taste good?

Trina Hahnemann wrote the successful Scandinavian Cookbook in 2008, and follows up with The Nordic Diet, a further collection of Scandinavian recipes masquerading unconvincingly as a diet book.

Hahnemann’s cooking is simple Scandinavian, adapted for the foreign market and palate.  Recipes are simple and bright, with clean, fresh flavours from recognisable and easily obtained ingredients.

Easy Danish smorrebrod, open sandwiches of rye bread topped with herring or salmon, egg, tomato, chervil, dressed with cutting vinegar dressings contrast with a stunning beetroot salad, bright Bishop’s purple, bound with yoghurt, low-fat, naturally, served with a fillet of pollack cured in salt and lemon zest.

Crisp, bold flavours.

A kale and chicken salad did little to convince me that I should actually like kale, but the thought of roasting a leg of wild boar is with garlic, rosemary, thyme and red wine, and eating it with roasted Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and potatoes, a lingonberry compote on the side, is reserved for such a time as I can find a wild boar.

Funnily enough, Leeds Market is a bit light on wild boar these days.

They’ve got plenty of kale, though.

Any diet that pushes the consumption of cabbage and Brussel sprouts is going to struggle with it’s image, but the benefits of a Nordic diet are self-evident.  Apart from the fairly standard and dull advice about enjoying meals with the family more, sitting down at the table to eat instead of in front of the TV, there’s a lot to like about Hahnemann’s book.

The central message is one of balance and care – take time over your food, its selection and preparation, and enjoy eating it.

I’m not so sure about the rye bread pizza, though.

I think the Italians probably do that better.