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How to eat a healthy Nordic diet

A few years ago I read an article that had me worried and wondering, and has stuck with me all this time. It was about the health benefits of eating a Nordic diet and how we should be at least giving it a go, but the thing that concerned me the most was that the writer said it was "expensive and impractical". I found that so worrying because the basis of a Nordic "diet" is to eat seasonally and with as few additives as possible (as I am going to show you in the rest of this article). If we make a conscious effort, it is achievable, and can be wonderful for our own health and for the good of the planet and certainly not expensive.

However, if you have been brought up eating ready prepared and processed store bought food your whole life and (quite naturally) do that as an adult it will take a bit of practice to change. But it can be done! And eventually it becomes natural and intuitive as you practice, and the changes you make start to turn into habits - healthy habits.

My family and I eat a Nordic diet everyday (well of course we do, we live in Norway), and it's something we've been doing for a long time even before we moved to Norway. Once we moved here and embraced the Nordic life it was even easier to be absorbed into that way of eating.

In this article I want to share my own tips with you and give you a glimpse into how we approach it.

I'm not going to go through each part of eating a Nordic diet, but I do have some recipe suggestions for you and if you are already a Living a Nordic Life VIP, you will be getting even more Nordic recipes from me each month. You can find out how to become a VIP here. In this article I am going to offer you some easy and achievable ways of eating like you are Nordic that you can start right now wherever you are in the world:

Keep breakfast simple

Breakfast in Scandinavia is usually very simple. It could be a knekkebrød (crispbread) with a healthy topping, a slice of bread or yoghurt. It's generally something quick, easy and healthy that takes longer to digest than sweet, processed foods. Most knekkebrød is wholegrain and contains seeds and fibre which the body takes a few hours to digest and so keeps us feeling full for longer. Include some protein and a little fat in that and you have the making of a healthy start to the day.

For some Nordic breakfast basics:

Less red meat

As much as people in the Nordic countries like red meat it's pretty pricey and so we tend to eat less of it and less often. Healthier meat like chicken, game and pork (yes, pork fat has been found to be on the healthy list) is chosen. In my own cooking I like to "hide" vegetables and mushrooms in meat dishes where possible. If I make a minced beef dish I will add at least the same amount of finely chopped mushrooms and vegetables as meat. Once they are finely chopped and cooked with the meat it's almost impossible to distinguish the two. Try substituting a white meat or vegetables for a red meat dish once a week, then twice a week and so on. I am not suggesting you should remove it altogether, but we don't need to eat red meat for every meal even if we are dedicated carnivores.

More fish and shellfish

It's no secret that the Nordic countries love their fish and if you are put off by whole fish (many people are, especially the tiny bones), you can either buy it fileted or enjoy some of the prepared fish products that are easy to get. Try to go for simple and unprocessed like natural tuna in a tin, cooked frozen prawns or fillets of salmon. If you like more flavour you can enjoy some smoked salmon (again check the packet) or other smoked fish. Some smoked fish has a dye in it (such as smoked haddock), so choose a naturally smoked product.

I have a few recipes to get you inspired:

More fermented food

You might be surprised how many fermented foods you are already eating. Dairy products such as kefir, cultured buttermilk and sour cream are all fermented. Sauerkraut and kimchi are two obvious vegetable choices which are familiar to most people. Do a little research and see what you can find and have fun tasting and testing. Most cultures have a fermented food of some type and I can guarantee you fill find something that appeals to you and your gut will thank you.

If you need a little convincing try this recipe which is fresh and delicious and uses a fermented milk product as it's star ingredient:

Eat Seasonally

This might seem either a silly thing to suggest or something that you find impossible.

But hear me out and let me break it down - eating seasonally is as simple as common sense.

Would that food that you are about to choose (I'm talking mostly fruit and vegetables) be growing naturally in your area right now? For example I never buy strawberries in January in Norway. They certainly are NOT growing and have to be imported a long way, even if they were available in the shops. Use common sense and choose food that would be growing right now. If you aren't sure then read the packet and see where it's from. Another option would be to shop locally. Most farm shops and wholefood shops stock products that have a short distance to travel and by going to those local shops you are also supporting your regional economy.

Sweets and candy only at the weekend

Have you heard of "Lördagsgodis"? It's the Swedish habit of enjoying candy on a Saturday. People look forward to a weekend treat of sweets or chocolate and save it for that day. Far from making us feel penalised it gives a "koselig" feeling of treating ourselves at the end of the week and it's easier to say no to unhealthy habits through the week.

Read more about this healthy Nordic habit here.

Forage for you own wild food

This is one of my great passions. I absolutely love wild food and although my foraging can be a bit obsessive there are easy ways you can introduce it into your own life. You don't need to suddenly start living in the forest, or building campfires in your garden and trapping things. It's much easier and gentler than that. Get knowledgeable about the edible food that grows in your own region. For this you will need to do some research or join a local foraging group or club. You'd be surprised how much grows in our back gardens and local areas and it's fun to make the most of what nature offers us. Once you get confident about what can be eaten you'll find it immensely rewarding and puts you in touch with nature and "friluftsliv" like you are Nordic.

For some great foraging resources have a look at these:

Choose less processed food

If it's ready made and in a packet there is a good chance that it's a processed food. Look for natural foods and read the packets. The fewer ingredients the better. Fresh fruit and vegetables are beautiful things with bright colours and appealing smells that should take centre stage in any meal or snack. It might mean eating a little less of something, but your body will thank you.

Don't be scared of a little fat

By fat, I am talking about natural unprocessed fats like butter, pork fat and full fat dairy products. The Nordic diet includes fats, but those of the unprocessed type like butter and sour cream. Although oils and spreads are used, everyone favours fats of the unprocessed types and are not afraid of including it in their daily cooking.

Eat dinner early

Life through the week starts early in Scandinavia and so by the time the late afternoon and early evening come everyone is hungry. The working finishes earlier than many nations (4pm usually) and an evening meal is generally served at about 5pm or 5.30pm. This gives our bodies time to digest and also gives us that much needed fast overnight that has been proved to be beneficial. Those of you who ever followed the 5:2 diet will know what I am talking about.

Eat more whole grains, nuts and seeds

Any visit to a Scandinavian supermarket will inevitably take you past the knekkebrød aisle. It's here that you notice the wide range of whole grains that are eaten even in foods that are produced in a factory (albeit small factories!). Scandinavians demand that things are kept simple in foods and those that contain huge amounts of additives are not popular so producers have to keep it healthy and include wholegrains, seeds and fibre. If you are able to get hold of some Nordic branded crispbreads they make an excellent snack (or make your own). Take some steps to include more wholegrains, nuts and seeds in your diet by choosing flours that are wholemeal, eat a handful of natural nuts as a snack and use ground nuts in recipes (they make great thickeners).

Make the kitchen your friend

There is no getting away from it - if you are going to eat more Nordicly you will have to do some cooking yourself. If you've never been much of a cook this can be daunting, but as a cordon bleu chef let me assure you that the simplest dishes with the least ingredients are ALWAYS the best. You don't need to be Gordon Ramsay and have dishes that contain 40 exotic ingredients to create something delicious. A tip from me is to put aside a day or an afternoon and make some dishes that can be frozen in portion sizes. You will be making your very own ready meals and you will know exactly what went into them. They will be very welcome on those days when you are too busy to cook or simply don't feel like it.

If you need some encouragement to get into the kitchen here are a few recipes that use only a handful of wholesome and delicious ingredients:

So what are you waiting for! Get out there are eat like you're Nordic. I hope I've inspired you to make a few changes in your diet. Even small changes can make a huge difference and there is no need to feel overwhelmed and pressured into completely changing your lifestyle overnight.

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