Fats found in the food that makes up a Nordic diet appear to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a study suggests.

The make-up of fats in fish, flaxseeds, sunflower and rapeseed have been shown to improve health, even without weight loss.

While the Nordic diet of berries, veggies, fish, whole grains and rapeseed oil is known to help prevent obesity and reduce the risk of serious illness, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have identified other health benefits, even without weight loss.

Lars Ove Dragsted, from the university’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, said: “It’s surprising because most people believe that positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol are solely due to weight loss. Here, we have found this not to be the case. Other mechanisms are also at play.”

The team looked at blood and urine samples from a group of 200 people aged over 50. All of them had raised BMI, with a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. For six months, half of the group followed Nordic diet recommendations, while the remaining participants consumed their normal diet.

Lars Ove Dragsted said: “The group that had been on the Nordic diet for six months became significantly healthier, with lower cholesterol levels, lower overall levels of both saturated and unsaturated fat in the blood, and better regulation of glucose, compared to the control group. We kept the group on the Nordic diet weight stable, meaning that we asked them to eat more if they lost weight. Even without weight loss, we could see an improvement in their health.”

The researchers put the health benefits down to the unique composition of fats found in a Nordic diet, although the exact reason why is still unknown.

Lars Ove Dragsted added: “We can only speculate as to why a change in fat composition benefits our health so greatly. However, we can confirm that the absence of highly processed food and less saturated fats from animals, have a very positive effect on us. So, the fat composition in the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats, is probably a considerable part of the explanation for the health effects we find from the Nordic diet, even when the weight of participants remains constant.

“This study simply shows that it is not only weight loss that leads to the benefits of this diet. The unique composition of fats plays an important role as well.”

The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, which are based around locally sourced ingredients, were backed by dietary experts in 2012.

Recommendations include:

  • Vegetables such as peas, beans, cabbage, onions and root vegetables
  • Fruits, including apples, pears, plums and berries
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Vegetable oils made from rapeseed, sunflower or flaxseed
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Significantly smaller portions of meat.

The study has been published in Clinical Nutrition.

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