What Is the Nordic Diet? Research, Weight Loss, Food List, and More

Medically Reviewed
nordic diet whole grain pancakes yogurt berries
Sourcing your berries locally and eating them only when they're in season are two tenets of the Nordic diet.Nataša Mandić/Stocksy

When it comes to geographic regions known for healthy habits, the Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden — aren’t as well-known as say, the Mediterranean. But the eating patterns of the people who live in these regions have a lot of scientifically backed health benefits. Unlike the typical Western diet, Nordic diets tend to include plant-based foods, go heavy on seafood, and be sustainable. So it isn’t surprising that the diet based on these healthy eating patterns was ranked No. 10 in best diets overall this year in U.S. News & World Report, where it earned high marks for its tasty, healthy foods and its environmental friendliness. It also tied for the No. 5 spot in best diets for healthy eating.

“The Nordic diet really is a lifestyle because it’s about more than just what you eat. It’s also about how you eat, how you shop, how you’re mindful of the environment and how you reduce your waste,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD, a registered dietitian based in New York City and the coauthor of Sugar Shock.

What Is the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic diet (sometimes called the Scandinavian diet) is a way of eating that is based on the traditional dietary habits of people living in Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The Nordic diet prioritizes whole foods over processed ones, is largely plant-based, and emphasizes eating locally, seasonally, and sustainably. Nutritional guidelines in these countries recommend low-fat dairy products and fish, and advise limiting processed and red meat, added sugar, salt, and alcohol, according to information published in Nutrients.

Common Questions & Answers

What is the Nordic Diet?
The Nordic diet is based on healthy eating guidelines for the five Nordic countries. It includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, and grains that thrive in the Nordic climate, as well as fish found in local waters.
What can I eat on the Nordic Diet?
On the Nordic or Scandinavian diet, you can eat many whole, plant-based foods such as fruits and berries, root veggies and other vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. You can also eat fish, canola oil, and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
Are Scandinavians healthier?
Scandinavians who closely follow the healthy Nordic diet seem to be healthier than those who don’t, with fewer heart disease risk factors and less excess body weight.
Will I lose weight on the Nordic Diet?
You could lose weight on the Nordic diet, especially if you’re eating more fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods in place of foods that are higher in calories and lower in nutrients.
How does the Nordic Diet compare with the Mediterranean Diet?
Both diets emphasize fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limit saturated fats and red meat. They both include fish, but the types of fish are different. The Mediterranean diet includes olive oil while the Nordic diet uses canola oil.

What Are the Potential Benefits of the Nordic Diet?

The Nordic diet, or Scandinavian diet, emphasizes whole, plant-based foods. “There’s tons of evidence suggesting that emphasizing those whole foods, particularly fiber-rich plant foods, is going to be beneficial for your gut and your risk of heart disease,” Cassetty says. “There’s mountains of evidence that suggests that eating foods closest to their natural forms is better.”

Research suggests the Nordic diet may have the following health benefits:

  • Reduce Inflammation Low-grade inflammation may be linked with chronic diseases, and a study pubished in June 2019 in Nutrients found that the Nordic diet may have anti-inflammatory effects, though more research is needed.

  • Reduce the Risk of a Heart Attack A study published in June 2018 in BMC Medicine found that the Nordic diet might be associated with a lower risk of a heart attack.

  • Lower the Risk of Death From Disease A study of middle-aged and older men published in the European Journal of Nutrition in February 2020 found that men who followed the Nordic diet had a lower risk of death from diseases, particularly heart disease and cancer.

  • Improve Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Levels A review published in September 2019 in the International Journal of Nutrition Sciences found the Nordic diet reduced levels of total cholesterol and unhealthy types of cholesterol and helped lower blood pressure.

  • Improve Blood Sugar Levels The study in the International Journal of Nutrition Sciences also found the Nordic diet improved blood glucose control compared with people eating a Western diet.
  • Improve Sleep A study of overweight and obese women published in Eating and Weight Disorders—Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia, and Obesity in November 2021 found that those who followed the Nordic diet slept better.

Can the Nordic Diet Help You Lose Weight Loss?

If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, good news: A meta-analysis published in September 2019 reviewed seven studies and found that following the Nordic diet significantly improves body weight.

“If you were eating closely to the Nordic diet, you could expect that you would potentially have an easier time either maintaining weight, avoiding weight gain, or losing weight,” Cassetty says.

The diet’s emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods and lean proteins are all strongly tied to weight loss. “If you swap fish for beef, veal, or cheese, you could wind up gaining health and also potentially losing weight from this diet,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table. “And if you emphasize fruits, veggies, and whole grains more than something higher in calories and lower in nutritional value, you could lose weight because you feel more satiated.”

That said, Taub-Dix adds that the benefits of the Nordic diet go beyond simple food choices. “It’s also cooking more at home, cooking with others, and making food an important part of your day instead of grab-and-go,” she says. “It’s really about sharing and learning and caring about what you’re eating.” In other words, the Nordic diet helps you become more mindful about eating, and research shows that mindfulness can aid weight loss.

What Can You Eat on the Nordic Diet?

People who follow the healthy Nordic diet eat a lot of local, plant-based foods, according to a study published in June 2019 in Nutrients.

“The Nordic diet emphasizes canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats,” says Cassetty. “It’s predominantly plant-based, with seafood emphasized, although certain game meats are a feature of the Nordic diet. It minimizes added sugars and processed meats.”

Here are some of the specific foods the diet encourages, and some it suggests you limit or avoid.

Foods to Eat

  • Fruits, such as apples, pears, and local berries
  • Vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, root vegetables, carrots, and peas
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains such as rye, oats, and barley
  • Low-fat and fat-free dairy
  • Fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel
  • Canola oil
  • Moderate or low levels of alcohol

Foods to Limit

A 7-Day Sample Menu for a Nordic Diet

Here is what a week’s worth of meals on the Nordic diet might look like:

Day 1

Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries

Lunch: Barley and Brussels sprouts grain bowl

Dinner: Shrimp with pasta and a side salad

Day 2

Breakfast: Avocado and egg on whole-grain toast

Lunch: Tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread with berries

Dinner: Salmon with roasted vegetables and a spinach salad

Day 3

Breakfast: Whole-wheat pancakes with Icelandic yogurt and fruit

Lunch: Beef and barley soup

Dinner: Stir-fry chicken and vegetables over brown rice

Day 4

Breakfast: Whole-grain bagel with gravlax and cream cheese

Lunch: Beet salad with almonds, lemon, and parsley

Dinner: Baked fish with potatoes and mixed vegetables

Day 5

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and spinach with whole-grain toast

Lunch: Turkey sandwich on rye with an apple

Dinner: Peppers stuffed with beans and mushrooms

Day 6

Breakfast: Berry and almond butter smoothie

Lunch: Smoked salmon sandwich on whole-grain bread with cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Roasted lamb with sweet potatoes and peas

Day 7

Breakfast: Yogurt with berries and almonds

Lunch: Quinoa with shrimp and vegetables

Dinner: Halibut with roasted cherry tomatoes and barley

What Are the Pros and Cons of the Nordic Diet?

With loads of health benefits and a focus on reducing your environmental impact by choosing local foods, there’s a lot to like about the Nordic diet. But if you don’t live in a Nordic country, you’ll probably want to make a few adjustments. Otherwise, you might spend a lot of money on costly, unfamiliar foods that have traveled a long way to reach your table.

“If you try to follow it exactly, it could wind up being more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be,” Taub-Dix says. “Take the basics of this diet and see how you can apply it to your own region, community, life, and eating style for yourself and your family."

If you’re accustomed to eating a lot of processed and prepared foods, the focus on cooking in the Nordic diet could be a barrier. “Cooking is emphasized on the Nordic diet, and if you don’t have the skills or the time, that can be a downside. You might have to ease your way into it and figure out how to make it work for you,” Cassetty said.

Resources We Love

Favorite Source for Detailed Info

U.S. News & World Report

This in-depth review gives you a detailed look at the Nordic Diet.

Favorite Cookbook

'The Nordic Diet: Using Local and Organic Food to Promote a Healthy Lifestyle'

Check out this book’s recipes and photography for Nordic diet inspiration.

Favorite Podcast Episode

Is the New Nordic Diet for You?

This Vitalita Health interview with Sharon Palmer, RD, dives into the Nordic Diet.

Favorite App


This app can help you build the habits you need to make it easy to follow the Nordic diet.


The Nordic diet, or Scandinavian diet, is part of a healthy lifestyle that includes lots of plant-based foods, fish, and canola oil with a focus on environmental sustainability. This way of eating brings loads of health benefits, and our experts recommend following the diet’s philosophy and substituting healthy foods that are abundant where you live. If you’re not accustomed to preparing food at home, you might want to gradually transition to the Nordic diet to streamline the learning curve.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Meltzer HM, Brantsæter AL, Trolle E. Environmental Sustainability Perspectives of the Nordic Diet. Nutrients. September 2019.
  • Lankinen M, Uusitupa M, Schwab U. Nordic Diet and Inflammation — a Review of Observational and Intervention Studies. Nutrients. June 2019
  • Ramezani-Jolfaie N, Mohammadi M, Salehi-Abargouei A. Effects of a Healthy Nordic Diet on Weight Loss in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials. Eating and Weight Disorders — Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity. September 2019.
  • Galbete C, Kröger J, Jannasch F. Nordic Diet, Mediterranean Diet, and the Risk of Chronic Diseases: The EPIC-Potsdam Study. BMC Medicine. June 2018.
  • Tertsunen HM, Hantunen S, Tuomainen TP, Virtanen JK. Healthy Nordic Diet and Risk of Disease Death Among Men: The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. European Journal of Nutrition. February 2020.
  • Nouripour F, Hejazi N. Nordic Diet and Cardio-Metabolic Diseases: A Review. [PDF] International Journal of Nutrition Sciences. September 2019.
  • Mousavi SA, Mirzababaei A, Shiraseb F, et al. The Association Between Modified Nordic Diet With Sleep Quality and Circadian Rhythm in Overweight and Obese Woman: A Cross-Sectional Study, Eating and Weight Disorders — Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity. November 2021.
  • Olson KL, Emery CF. Mindfulness and Weight Loss: A Systematic Review. Psychosomatic Medicine. January 2015.
Show Less