The latest “it” diet in medical research is the New Nordic Diet (NND), This diet was created by a group of researchers, nutritionists, and chefs at the University of Copenhagen in 2004. Their goal was to define a new regional cuisine to help address growing obesity rates and non-sustainable farming practices in the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland). Based upon accumulating data from clinical trials, the NND does produce some very interesting health benefits including an ability to reduce gene expression in fat cells that promotes systemic inflammation.
Like the Mediterranean diet, the NND focuses on whole foods and is rich in plant foods especially root vegetables, cabbage (and other cruciferous members), dark leafy greens, apples and pears, berries (e.g., lingonberries and bilberries), and whole grains (especially rye and oats). Fish such as salmon and herring is also a key feature of the NND. The recommended meat consumption is limited in serving size and focuses on wild game such as venison and elk) and small amounts of dairy. Other wild foods include moss, mushrooms, nettles, garlic and even ants. Fresh herbs include dill, chives and fennel.
The overall nutritional profile of the NND is very close to the Mediterranean diet. What olive oil, nuts, beans, and sardines are to the Mediterranean, canola oil, berries, root vegetables and cod are to the NND.
Several studies have validated the NND’s health benefits including an ability to lower cholesterol, reduce systemic inflammation, lower blood pressure, and help people to lose weight. In one study conducted in Denmark with overweight subjects following either the NND or the “average Danish diet (ADD).” Food was supplied free of charge and intake was monitored, but test subjects were allowed to eat as much as they wanted and could deviate from the prescribed plan occasionally. After six months, those that followed the NND had eaten fewer calories each day over a six-month period. The average weight loss was 4.7 kg for the NND compared to 1.5 kg for the ADD. The NND also produced greater reductions in systolic blood pressure (-5.1 mm Hg vs. -2.1 mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (-3.2 mm Hg vs. -0.8 mm Hg) than did the ADD.
A new study led by the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland demonstrated the NND reduces the expression of inflammation-associated genes in fat cells of the obese subjects with the metabolic syndrome.
For a period of 18 to 24 weeks, half of the study participants followed the NND while the other half consumed a control diet. The participants were asked to maintain their body weight throughout the study. Samples of the study participants’ adipose tissue were taken at the beginning and end of the study, and detailed analysis was performed in order to study the expression of genes.
Results showed differences in the function of as many as 128 different genes in the adipose tissue of NND group compared with the control group. In particular, the expression of several inflammation-associated genes were lower than in the NND group.
The key point that I want to make is that if you look at the medical research on diet and health, there are some obvious principles that are common. Eat more whole, unprocessed natural foods with a focus on low glycemic plant foods and good oils including mono-unsaturated fats and fish oils; while avoiding overconsumption of meat and dairy. The research on the NDD mirrors that with two highly popularized diets – the Mediterranean Diet and the Okinawan Diet. However, I am 100 percent positive that healthful versions of the traditional Latino, African, Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern diets would also show positive effects on overall health as well as genetic markers of inflammation. Again, my point is that these diets are all very similar in food constituents, though they can differ quite significantly in the actual foods.
Kolehmainen M, Ulven SM, Paananen J, et al. Healthy Nordic diet downregulates the expression of genes involved in inflammation in subcutaneous adipose tissue in individuals with features of the metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jan;101(1):228-39.
Dr. Michael Murray