Post by Eliza Barclay, The Salt at NPR Food (05/31/13)
The Mediterranean diet has long been a darling of nutrition experts as a proven way to prevent some chronic diseases. Heavy on olive oil, vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish, the diet most recently has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and dying compared with a typical low-fat diet.
But in many regions, including Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden, it's not easy to go Med. Olive oil, for one, is hard to find. And while obesity rates in the Nordic countries are much lower than in the U.S., there are still plenty of people at risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases who could use some dietary inspiration.
That's why a group of nutrition researchers in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway set out to design a "healthy" Nordic diet around locally produced food items, like herring, rapeseed oil (also known as canola) and bilberries (a relative of the blueberry). To test whether it was actually healthy, they prescribed the diet to people with metabolic syndrome — a precursor to diabetes — and compared them to others on an "average" Nordic diet higher in red meat and white bread.
The study was randomized and lasted 18 to 24 weeks in 2009 and 2010, with 96 people in the healthy diet group and 70 in the control group. The healthy Nordic diet group ate mostly berries (currants, bilberries and strawberries), canola oil, whole grains, root vegetables and three fish meals (preferably fatty fish like salmon and mackerel) per week, and avoided sugar. The rest of the time, they could eat vegetarian, poultry or game, but no red meat. The researchers provided them with some of the key ingredients for their meals.