Mediterranean Diet too passé? Try the Nordic Diet

I’d only recently heard the Scandinavians had their own diet, and taking into account my Swedish heritage, penchant for trying new diets (for research purposes, of course) and preference for sardines, I figured this one might be right up my alley. Turns out, it just might be.

The Nordic diet, like the Mediterranean diet, emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and healthy fats. According to the World Health Organization, both the Nordic and Mediterranean diets can reduce the risks of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Perhaps the only fundamental difference between the two is the type of oil recommended: olive for the Mediterranean and canola for the Nordic diet. Canola oil is made up of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, provides anti-inflammatory omega-3 polyunsaturated fats and may reduce LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.

The Nordic diet is based on the Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid, which was created by the Finnish Heart Association and is similar to the 1992 USDA Food Guide Pyramid. The foundation of the Nordic diet is made up of common Nordic vegetables, fruits and grains (such as barley, rye and oats) in the middle, and fish, lean meat and low-fat dairy near the top. The very tip of the pyramid features foods that should be limited, such as processed foods and sweets. Foods unique to the Nordic diet include skyr (Icelandic yogurt, high in protein) and dense, whole-kernel rye bread (often found in air-tight packages, try the Mestemacher brand).

I recently read The Nordic Way, by Arne Astrup, Jennie Brand-Miller and Christian Bitz, which advocates specific ‘diet’ principles based on the results of the Diet and Obesity Genes study. The DiOGenes study followed overweight and obese adults and children in eight European countries who had recently lost weight, and found that a low-Glycemic Index (GI) diet, combined with a modest increase in protein, prevented weight re-gain and even promoted further weight loss. The book recommends a 2:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, with an emphasis on low-GI carbohydrates. Low-GI carbohydrates don’t raise blood sugar as quickly as higher-GI carbohydrates, and there are many proponents of this style of eating plan. Click here for a complete book review.

Additionally, the Nordic diet stresses the importance of satiety and palatability of foods. By eliminating processed foods, which often lead to overeating, the Nordic diet promotes eating until one is satisfied, rather than full. Because the diet is high in fiber and recommends healthy fats and protein, it’s easy to feel satisfied for longer periods of time.

Here are some ways to work a ‘Nordic style’ of eating into your life:

-Begin with smaller portion sizes. It’s easy to overeat without knowing it, so start with less food on your plate and have a second helping only if you feel hungry.

-Drink more water and less alcohol, juice and sweetened beverages.

-Limit your meat consumption and replace with plant-based proteins (such as chickpeas or lentils) and oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel). Try using other types of canned fish like you would tuna.

-Keep red meat to smaller, higher quality amounts. Give bison a try!

-Consider trying the Mestemacher bread. It comes in a couple varieties, and I recommend toasting it. I topped a piece with deli ham, Dijon mustard, cottage cheese and shredded carrots (a combination I found in The Nordic Way) and it was delicious.

-Replace some high-GI foods with lower-GI foods. Traditional white and wheat breads, cornflake cereal, rice milk, potatoes and corn syrup are high-GI foods. Substitute them with dense rye or pumpernickel bread, muesli, soy or dairy milk, sweet potatoes (or even a small amount of potato chips!) and real maple syrup, respectively.

Even just a few of these diet changes can make a big difference in your waistline!

Since reading The Nordic Way, I’ve incorporated more dairy into my diet with cottage cheese, as well as the dense bread recommended. I was already eating Siggi’s, an Icelandic yogurt, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. The book features multiple recipes with canned mackerel in tomato sauce, but I have yet to find any of that locally. I had a delicious mackerel sandwich on my trip to the Netherlands last summer, and I’d love to try to recreate it soon.


siggi’s recipe contest: blueberry lemon cheesecakes

I’ve been eating siggi’s yogurt for awhile now, since it’s one of the few with very little added sugar and high in protein.  Most of the time I use plain and add my own fruit or granola, but their flavored yogurts are delicious!  I LOVE the orange & ginger flavor the best, and their pumpkin during the fall.  So good!

Siggi’s is Icelandic-style yogurt, called ‘skyr.’  They use a whopping FOUR times the amount of milk for each cup of yogurt, which their gives it a very thick texture and more protein.

When I found out siggi’s was holding a recipe contest for dietitians, you can bet I was super excited and couldn’t wait to enter.  I even had to fudge a little on my ‘no-added-sugar’ challenge since the recipe is due April 30.

I really wanted to make something unique (i.e. not a smoothie) with the yogurt, and was waffling between a baked item (like a muffin) and an Indian-inspired yogurt dressing for chicken when Andrew gave me the idea for cheesecake.  (Not sure why–he doesn’t even like cheesecake!)  Because siggi’s values real, simple ingredients and limiting added sugar, I attempted to make a simple (i.e. no bake), healthier (enter the yogurt) cheesecake without a lot of added sugar.  It’s just sweet enough to feel like dessert, yet tangy and light enough to be kind to your waistline.

Anyway, after a huge fail for the first version, I hit a home run with my second go-around.  A big THANK YOU to the Nyes, who served as my taste-testers!

Please note this recipe uses a variation of the cherry-chia jam I posted recently, so be sure to make the jam before you want to make and assemble the cheesecakes!


Individual Blueberry Lemon Cheesecakes

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Blueberry Jam:

1 C frozen blueberries, thawed

½ C pineapple juice

1 T chia seeds

Heat blueberries and pineapple juice over low heat and use a potato masher to crush fruit. Simmer 5-10 minutes. Mix in chia seeds and pour into a glass jar. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.


¾ C pretzel ‘crumbs’

3 T butter, melted

1 T sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix crumbs, butter, sugar and cinnamon together. Immediately add 3 T of crust to each ramekin and tamp down.

*For a crisper crust, bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. (Note: If using glass jelly jars, bake in a water bath to prevent glass from cracking.)


4 oz siggi’s plain yogurt

4 oz cream cheese, softened

2 T honey

1 package unflavored gelatin

1 C boiling water

3 T lemon juice

zest of ¼ lemon

Empty gelatin packet into a glass measuring cup, pour in 1 cup boiling water and stir until gelatin has dissolved completely. Let stand 5 minutes. Mix yogurt, cream cheese, honey, lemon juice and zest in a large bowl with a hand mixer or in a food processer until well combined. Pour in ½ cup of the gelatin and mix until smooth.

To assemble:

  1. Cool crusts in ramekins/jars if pre-baking.
  2. Spoon 2 T of blueberry jam onto each crust and spread to cover completely.
  3. Ladle approximately ½ cup cream cheese mixture into each ramekin/jar and refrigerate 3 hours to set. Top with additional jam or blueberries as desired.

Disclaimer: siggi’s does not know who I am, nor am I being sponsored or reimbursed for this post.

#cookingwithsiggis #contest


recipe contest fail

I’m about to submit the recipe I came up with for siggi’s yogurt as part of a contest, but thought I’d keep it real and show you the first round: plain, mango coconut and vanilla cherry cheesecakes.


I clearly got ahead of myself, taking glamour shots before taste-testing them with some friends.


The verdict: not enough flavor.  The unanimous ‘winner’ of the first round was the plain yogurt-cheesecake (pictured above, with a strawberry), which included a little bit of honey for sweetness.  Sadly, the vanilla cherry wasn’t flavorful enough, and the mango coconut wasn’t all that great, either.

Because siggi’s values simple ingredients and very little added sugar, I only added honey to the one with the plain yogurt; the other two were sweetened only by the sugar in their respective yogurts and fruit.

At our taste-test, we all brainstormed for the second round and came up with an entirely different flavor combo.  I whipped it up the next day and declared victory when all my tasters approved!  Recipe coming NEXT to the blog!