By Banaz Al-khalidi
Given the public health burden of lifestyle-related diseases, dietary interventions have been studied widely. Successful dietary approaches, such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets, are often limited by the regional food system and cultural adaptation.
The New Nordic Diet (NND) was developed as part of the Danish multidisciplinary OPUS project (1). The NND was designed by gastronomic, nutritional, and environmental specialists to be a culturally sensitive Nordic diet that is palatable, healthy and environmentally sustainable. The average Danish diet (ADD) tends to be low in fruits and veggies, high in animal foods, sugar products and processed foods. The NND is a predominantly plant-based cuisine comprised of locally grown fruits and veggies in season (more berries, cabbage, root vegetables but less tomato and cucumber), whole grains, rapeseed oil, fish and shellfish, high quality meat but less of it, and more organic produce.
The health effects of the NND were compared with the ADD in a cohort of centrally obese adults (2). A “shop model” was used by participants to collect food ad libitum and free of charge. Cooking courses and cookbooks were also provided as part of the study. Despite the ad libitum design, the NND group consumed significantly less energy (- 422 calories/d) than the ADD group and had higher self-evaluated diet satisfaction. Significant weight loss in the NND group was accompanied by greater reductions in anthropometric measures. Aside from weight loss, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, plasma triglyceride, total cholesterol, and VLDL cholesterol were reduced in the NND group. It is also worth noting that CRP (C-reactive protein; inflammatory biomarker) levels decreased in the NND group relative to the ADD group. This is in accordance with previous studies where a plant based diet has been associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers.
Another study evaluated the environmentally sustainable elements of the NND (3). The effects of diet composition, food transportation (local vs imports), and production method (organic vs conventional) were evaluated based on 16 environmental impact categories, including global warming potential, respiratory inorganics, and nature occupation. The socioeconomic impact of choosing NND resulted in 5% reduction in the overall environmental cost of ADD. The reduction in the overall environmental cost increased from 5% to 32% when the effect of NND’s high organic content was discounted (note: the overall environmental cost of ADD was equated to €835/person per year). In other words, the greater reductions in the overall environmental costs were mainly driven by reduced meat consumption but higher quality meat consumption (i.e. less beef and more grass-fed lamb) and few imported commodities. Organic produce unfavorably increased environmental cost associated with inefficient land use.
Similar multidisciplinary projects are needed in other parts of the world to develop evidence-based strategies that are specific to each region, where policy makers could make use of evidence-based strategies to improve environmental policies. Adapting a regional based diet has the potential to protect both health and the environment but future research should assess the long-term potential of food-environment studies.