A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen explored how following a Nordic diet may be beneficial for consumers’ health.
The team explained that following this diet plan was linked with improvements to cholesterol and blood sugar levels. While consumers may be more likely to lose weight while following the Nordic diet, the researchers say the health benefits aren't solely tied to that outcome.
“It’s surprising because most people believe that positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol are solely due to weight loss,” said researcher Lars Ove Dragsted. “Here, we have found this not to be the case. Other mechanisms are also at play.”
Improving health with diet choices
The researchers had 200 participants over the age of 50 with high BMIs involved in the study. Over the course of six months, the participants were divided into two groups: one group ate as they normally would while the second group ate foods consistent with a Nordic diet. This diet focuses primarily on plant-based options, foods that are local to Nordic countries, and complex carbs.
The researchers then analyzed blood and urine samples from the participants to better understand how the diets affected their health outcomes. At the end of the study, the link between the Nordic diet and long-term health benefits was clear. Following this eating plan led to significant health improvements in key areas for the participants.
“The group that had been on the Nordic diet for six months became significantly healthier, with lower cholesterol levels, lower overall levels of both saturated and unsaturated fat in the blood, and better regulation of glucose, compared to the control group,” said Dragsted. “We kept the group on the Nordic diet weight stable, meaning that we asked them to eat more if they lost weight. Even without weight loss, we could see an improvement in their health.”
The researchers believe the Nordic diet was so beneficial to the participants’ health because of its fat composition. They explained that participants who followed the diet were eating fewer processed foods and getting their dietary fats from flaxseeds, fish, sunflower oil, and canola oil.
“By analyzing the blood of participants, we could see that those who benefited most from the dietary change had different fat-soluble substances than the control group,” Dragsted said. “These are substances that appear to be linked to unsaturated fatty acids from oils in the Nordic diet. This is a sign that Nordic dietary fats probably play the most significant role for the health effects seen here, which I hadn’t expected.
“We can only speculate as to why a change in fat composition benefits our health so greatly.” However, we can confirm that the absence of highly processed food and less saturated fat from animals have a very positive effect on us. So, the fat composition in the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats, is probably a considerable part of the explanation for the health effects we found from the Nordic diet, even when the weight of participants remains constant.”