Nordic diet among the best

Helle Margrete Meltzer, Agneta Hörnell and Harriet Strandvik discuss the Nordic diet. Photo: Terje Heiestad.

Nordic diet among the best

“We should be proud of the Nordic diet,” says Harriet Strandvik, project manager for Food & Children in the Nordic Region under New Nordic Food II, a programme under the Nordic Council of Ministers. “It can be at least as healthful and appetising as the Mediterranean diet, among others.”

After a hearty Nordic breakfast at the National Science Week seminar on the Nordic Diet, which was organised by NordForsk and Nordic Region in Focus, it is easy to agree with Ms Strandvik. Helle Margrethe Meltzer, nutritionist and Research director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health concurs. In her presentation, Dr Meltzer spoke about Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) – a collection of pan-Nordic dietary recommendations that form the basis for the government guidelines the authorities of each Nordic country provide to their residents. Every eight years a working group comprised of Nordic experts draws up a new set of recommendations. Dr Meltzer is one of two Norwegians who contributed to the most recent version in 2012.

“We have identified many similarities in the eating habits and patterns of disease across Nordic countries,” explains Helle Margrethe Meltzer. She adds, “A joint Nordic approach gives us a stronger political tool. The basis for issuing dietary recommendations comes from the sum of results of a long line of studies, with a very broad research base underlying these efforts.” She points to the contrast between these systematic research efforts and numerous press reports in recent years, which focus great attention on single studies.

School meals

Children’s school meals was another topic addressed at the seminar – this time by Agneta Hörnell from ProMeal, a project under NordForsk’s Education for Tomorrow programme. Together with fellow Nordic researchers, she has studied school lunch programmes in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland to find out whether school meals lead to healthier eating habits among pupils and improve their ability to learn. This is a topic that repeatedly shows up on the political agenda of several of the Nordic countries, particularly in Norway, which is the only Nordic country where schoolchildren are not served lunch at school.

Over 800 ten-year-olds took part in the study. One of the most important factors for the children appears to be the setting in which lunch is served. Many of them would like to have a quiet, peaceful break with their friends during lunch, but the actual eating environment is often far more noisy and stressful. While many of the children stated that they felt it was important to have healthy food, many nonetheless did not help themselves to the food available at the salad bar, for example. And what is best in the end – an unhealthy lunch which is actually consumed or a healthy, varied lunch that returns untouched?

Local production, worldwide renown

The awareness of Nordic food is undergoing change in many areas of society. “We see that people are hungry to know more about where their food comes from,” Ms Strandvik explains. She points to initiatives such as Farmer’s markets as examples of the increasing popularity of locally produced food in the Nordic countries. In addition, a growing number of Nordic chefs have gained international recognition, among other things due to their success in international culinary competitions. This has helped give Nordic residents new pride in their food culture, she believes. 

The nutrition researcher emphasises the importance of promoting cooperation across sectors, for instance in the interface between the food and tourism industries. “When we work across sectors we come up with creative, beneficial solutions. This is how to ensure constructive development in the future,” she states. The New Nordic Food programme has already played a role in this. But is the new Nordic food really new? “It is actually the same old Nordic food,” she admits, “but served up in a new way.”


See photos from the event on flickr!


Tekst: Lisa H. Ekli
Photo: Terje Heiestad
Translation: Glenn Wells and Carol B. Eckmann

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