“It’s surprising that most people think that the positive effects on blood sugar & cholesterol are only due to weight loss,” said Lars Ove Dragsted, nutritionist at the University of Copenhagen. “Here we found that is not be the case. Other mechanisms are also at play.
Although the best known & thoroughly studied Mediterranean diet is highly recommended for good health, it is not always practical to consume for people in other parts of the world, due to the limitations of what grows locally or cultural challenges.
Hence the concept of healthy regional diets, such as the Nordic diet, has-been developed using equivalent food products that are easily available locally & traditionally eaten in the region.
The Nordic diet shares many similarities with the Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on plant based foods, with moderate amounts of fish & eggs, and a small amount of dairy.
Both limit processed foods, sweets & meats, but the Nordic diet favors canola oil over olive oil, which contains some healthy omega-3 fatty acids similar to those found in fish.
It includes berries, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, & beans among other fruits & vegetables, whole grains cereals like rye & barley, also fatty fish.
Like the Mediterranean diet, observational studies suggest that following it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes & overall mortality.
In the new study, Dragsted & colleagues analyzed regular blood & urine samples from 200 overweight volunteers over the age of 50 from 6 centers in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland & Finland during a period of four weeks in which they ate their usual diet.
They sampled them again for an additional 19 to 24 weeks, when half of the participants followed Nordic diet and the rest followed a control diet. Both diets were calculated so that the volunteers would maintain a stable weight.
“The group that had followed the Nordic diet for 6 months became significantly healthier,” Dragsted explained, “with lower cholesterol levels, lower overall levels of saturated & unsaturated fats in the blood, and better glucose regulation. than to-the control group.
The team found differences in fat-soluble substances in patients who benefited the most from the change in diet.
“The composition of fats in the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 & omega-6 unsaturated fats, is likely a significant part of the explanation for the health effects we found in the Nordic diet, even when weight of the participant is taken into account was constant”, explained Dragsted.
These fats come from fish, flaxseed, sunflower & canola oils, but how they affect blood sugar & cholesterol levels has not yet been investigated.
“We can confirm that the absence of highly processed foods & less saturated animal fat has a very positive effect on us,” Dragsted concluded.
As obesity levels rise around the world, contributing to cardiovascular disease, diabetes & other illnesses, researchers point out that weight loss remains important, but that is not the only contributing factor to Nordic diet benefits.
Similar results have also found with the Mediterranean diet, with a huge long-term study of 79,000 people showing that those who mainly stuck to the diet had better mortality outcomes regardless of-their weight.
A 2018 study also showed that focusing on food types rather than portions could be a more effective & sustainable way to lose weight. But the effectiveness of a particular diet ends-up being may also depend on the quality of food you can afford.
So focusing on healthy food choices (to the best of our abilities!) may prove more beneficial to-those of us who are struggling with our weight than embarrassing ourselves – or each other – about our weight.
This research was published in Clinical Nutrition.