Health Lessons from International Cuisines: The Nordic Countries

177835095The Nordic countries (including Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland) are well known for having some of the healthiest and happiest populations in the world. Sweden consistently maintains one of the world’s highest life expectancies, and Forbes, Bloomberg, and others have featured all five countries on lists of ‘the world’s healthiest countries.’

Many have attributed their good health to the Nordic diet. As with most of the countries we’ve talked about so far, the Nordic regional diet is rapidly becoming westernized, but their traditional diet pattern has a lot of positives. It’s high in dairy, rye bread, fish, berries, apples, cabbage, root vegetables, potatoes, pork, and game meat, and until recently, they weren’t afraid of dairy fat.

Find out why the Nordic countries have excellent health, despite eating plenty of grains and dairy.Tweet This

But I think their good health has as much to do with the fact that they exercise frequently, have superior healthcare, maintain a healthy balance between work and stress, and have environments with abundant natural beauty and low levels of pollution as it does with their diet. There are still a couple aspects of their diet I’d like to discuss, but I also think we can learn a lot from how they approach diet, rather than what that diet actually is.

Sourdough rye bread

The consumption of meat, fruit, and vegetables varies across the Nordic region, but rye bread has long been a staple in all five countries, and is part of the reason the Nordic diet is considered so beneficial. But unlike the grains consumed in Africa, which I talked about last week, rye doesn’t have the redeeming quality of being ‘gluten-free.’ The problematic protein in rye is actually called secalin, but it’s very similar to wheat gluten, and Celiacs must avoid it all the same.

However, there are a number of things that make the rye consumed in the Nordic region superior to the modern wheat consumed in increasing amounts all over the world. First of all, wheat bread elicits a significantly higher insulin response than rye bread. (1) One study compared the insulin response from white wheat bread to that of three variants of sourdough rye bread, each containing different amounts of fiber. Researchers found that postprandial blood glucose did not initially differ among the breads, but a couple hours after eating, the wheat bread caused a drop in blood glucose below fasting levels while the rye bread allowed blood glucose to remain stable. There was no significant difference between the rye breads with varying fiber contents, indicating that factors other than fiber content give rye bread a more favorable insulin response than wheat.

We already know that fermenting flour to make sourdough is beneficial for reducing toxins and increasing the bioavailability of nutrients. (2) But it could also be beneficial for increasing the resistant starch content of bread (particularly rye), thereby improving insulin response and gaining prebiotic effect. One analysis found that white wheat bread, sourdough barley bread, and scalded barley bread all contained between 0.8% and 1.7% resistant starch, while sourdough rye bread contained about 8% resistant starch. (3) Another study found that a combination of long, slow baking times and sourdough technique markedly increased the resistant starch content of not only rye bread, but other types as well. (4)

Lactase persistence

The Nordic countries are a good reminder that as humans, we are always evolving. Lactase persistence (the ability to digest lactose as an adult) is not the norm for adult humans, yet the vast majority of the adult Scandinavian population can digest lactose, giving them the highest level of lactase persistence in the world. (5) In Sweden and Denmark, over 90% of the population can digest lactose. (6) The Scandinavian countries also have the highest consumption of dairy in the world, indicating that their ability to digest lactose co-evolved with cattle domestication and the incorporation of dairy into the daily diet. (7)

On a related note, I ran across this study attempting to link lactase persistence and dairy consumption in Sweden and Finland to prostate cancer. Interestingly, the only association they found was an increased risk of prostate cancer with a higher intake of low-fat dairy, but not full-fat dairy. (Add that to the long list of studies indicating that there’s no benefit to consuming low-fat dairy over full-fat!)

Willingness to make a change

One of the biggest obstacles to health for many people is the unwillingness to change their diet or lifestyle when they clearly aren’t working. Resistance to change is also a huge problem with government guidelines and other sources of ‘conventional wisdom.’ But when you look at the health history of the Nordic countries, it’s quite remarkable how willing they are to try new things in the name of health.

Take Finland, for example. In the 1980’s, they had the highest rates of heart disease in the world. (8, 9) In fact, Finland’s example helped establish the notion that saturated fat leads to heart disease, because at the time, Finland also had one of the highest levels of saturated fat consumption in the world.

Then the North Karelia project was introduced, with goals to cut smoking, increase fruit and vegetable consumption, and replace saturated animal fats with vegetable oils in the North Karelia region of Finland. But soon the rest of the country caught on, and their lifestyle changes brought about one of the most remarkable public health transformations in history. In just 20 years, rates of heart disease in Finland decreased by about 60%. (10, 11)

Now, there are a lot of factors at play here – the dramatic reduction in smoking, genetics, and the curious east-west health disparity, to name a few – and although the North Karelia project has been used to further demonize saturated fat, the evidence doesn’t support that stance. (12, 13) But the point I want to make is that the Finns made a radical shift in their lifestyle, and weren’t afraid to embrace change. It may have (in part) been a misguided shift; their rising triglycerides, falling HDL, and increasing rates of obesity indicate that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils was likely not the best choice. (14) But their heart disease rates did fall dramatically, and no other country in history has been able to make that kind of a positive shift in their health.

Sweden’s recent low-carb craze is another example. After one forward-thinking doctor began recommending low-carb, high-fat diets to some of her patients, the Swedish equivalent of the USDA reviewed the science on low-carb diets and stated that “A low carbohydrate diet can today be said to be in accordance with science and well-tried experience for reducing obesity and Type 2 diabetes.” (15) “Low-carbing” became socially and scientifically acceptable, and millions of Swedes hopped on the low-carb, high-fat bandwagon.

Naysayers have published research “proving” that this new trend is killing Sweden, which Denise Minger has dismantled for us here and here. We really don’t know what effect this trend will have on Sweden in the long run, but the simple fact that their people – and their government – were willing to embrace a new dietary perspective is quite amazing.

Food is more than just nutrients

Finally, I want to highlight a new dietary initiative in Denmark, called the ‘New Nordic Diet.’ Essentially, the NND is like any other set of dietary recommendations: they’ll be disseminated to the public, with the intent of improving public health. (16) But this is one of the most holistic sets of dietary recommendations I’ve seen, and I sincerely hope this trend catches on in other countries.

The creators of the NND didn’t redeem saturated fat or caution against omega-6s, but they did something equally impressive: they shifted the focus off of nutrients and onto foods. They recommend consuming tasty, local, sustainable foods that have been part of the Nordic diet for ages, including berries, cabbages, root vegetables, legumes, fresh herbs, potatoes, plants and mushrooms from the wild countryside, whole grains, nuts, fish and shellfish, seaweed, dairy, eggs, free-range livestock, and game. They also make a point of encouraging other countries to craft similar recommendations, but using foods that are local and traditional to their own culture.

Conclusion

Overall, I think the Nordic countries set a great example of how modern, industrialized countries should approach health. When Finland experienced a public health crisis, they came together as a community and made drastic changes to solve the problem. When the Swedish government was presented with scientific evidence that contradicted their prior conclusions, they changed their stance. And instead of trying to reduce food down to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ nutrients, Denmark is moving towards a holistic view of food that takes culture, palatability, and the environment into account as well. I think we can learn a lot from these actions, not only as individuals, but also as a community.

Like what you’ve read? Sign up for FREE updates delivered to your inbox.

  • I hate spam too. Your email is safe with me.

Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Wilhelmina says

    Hmz interesting. I live in Sweden and what I see here is a complete different diet: beer, sausages, sugary flour creations, almost zero vegetables (was also mentioned in the news the Swedes eat way too little green) + a lot of obesity, both among adults as children. Not exaxctly the same image as is writen above…

    • Kirderf says

      Agree with you Wilhelmina, the food he (Chris) describe as Nordic or Swedish is not what I can see people around me eat often. I’ts more half fabric, frozen pizza, a lot of bread, sugar soda etc. as I can see.
      For me it seems like the majority of people still go the easy, cheapest way, not think so much about quality or where the food come from. But in the same time there are a growing interest for “real food”, I hope it will be more people that wake up and take responsibility for their own.
      In Sweden we have long tradition to trust, we trust the government advices, but unfortenately we also believe that the big companys want our best. But that’s not always true…

    • Laughlyn says

      Yeah, it’s sort of a rosy picture painted above. Sure, a lot of the points are relevant, but the overall Swedish diet is thoroughly “westernized” even though we at some basic level of culture retain the good habits mentioned in the article.

      Regarding the comment on the Swedish government’s official stance it should be noted that the agency Socialstyrelsen (the National Board of Health and Welfare) merely acknowledged that certain positive effects from “a moderate low-carb diet” have been noted in diabetics, yet Livsmedelsverket (the National Food Administration, the central supervisory authority regarding food), is vehemently opposed the popular low carb high fat diet, and still touts the conventional idea that consumption of saturated fat is directly causally related to heart disease; laments that low-carb diets don’t contain the oh-so-essential whole grains, implying that they increase the risk of bowel cancer; that low-carb diets lead to a reduced consumption of vegetables and are therefore unhealthy + various other sloppy, unscientific pseudo-analyses &c.

      And this is to say nothing of the disinformation on diet in our largest newspapers etc. Sure, there is popular and political support for the low-carb model, but it’s a minority position, more often than not looked upon with contempt and derision, and if I’m to believe a heart surgeon I am aquainted with, most of the professional cardiologists at our largest university are yet to seriously consider the relevant scientific data, still firmly in the conventional wisdom camp.

      • Helen says

        Agree with everything that Laughlyn and other fellow Swedes have already stated above – this article paints a rosy picture indeed. Yes, there is a raised awareness today, with a lot of discussion going on, which is a good thing of course, but we’re very far from “there” yet – the average Swede still eats a throughly “Westernized” diet.

      • Richard says

        You could see how nutty the conventional view is if you would read Gary Taubes highly documented book “Good Calories Bad Calories”or his version for the more simple minded: “Why We Are Fat …..”
        Or follow Dr Peter Attia’s material on the net (very technical and sophisticated)

    • Ryan says

      I am pretty health conscious and have a low carb unprocessed diet but I must admit that although I loved the people and all that Sweden is, I struggled to find decent food especially when eating out. It’s a diet that seems largely devoid of vegetables and fresh foods. The number of McDonald’s stores paints the current picture.

  2. David says

    Regarding the North Karelia project, in which rates of heart disease in Finland decreased by about 60%, what factors do you believe actually caused the reduction in heart disease?

    • Tyler says

      You can try “23 and Me” it is blood test that gives you a DNA profile of your ancestral history. I REALLY want to try it (its about $100) which seems worth it. It might help clear that up.

      • David says

        Tyler I do not see how 23 and Me would be superior to Kressers Personal Paleo Code program, I would just do Personal Paleo Code.

  3. Raph S says

    Maybe your article would’ve gone far beyond its intended original scope but NOT discussing POVERTY as a major factor does leave this critique a bit too obfuscating…
    Different grains (of different preparations) are highlighted in your article as POTENTIALLY partially responsible for Nordic health (aka RELATIVELY better health). I seem to notice a familiar trap: comparing something more harmful with something less harmful (wheat bread vs sourdough bread) and trying to account for any positive effects on the basis of that comparison.
    Why am I wrong?

  4. Glenn says

    “But I think their good health has as much to do with the fact that they exercise frequently, have superior healthcare,…”

    Being a 29 year old Norwegian with a long history of poor healthcare service, with long term misuse of antibiotics for recurring sinusitis from birth to late teens, and last ten years no public health understanding or help with my resulting “Crohn’s”/IBS, food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions. In addition my last two years of CFS/ME after mononucleosis (EBV), I am really wondering where this “superior healthcare” is.

    My experience is that the majority of norwegian healthcare is comprised of arrogant doctors with a very narrow indoctrinated view, not up to date on research, and love giving nutrition advice without any real understanding or education on the topic.

    I’m currently considering a new trip to the US to get some expertise advice for my issues.
    Reading that Norway is suppose to have “superior healthcare” just makes me even more worried about the future of mankind.

    Of course my experience is anecdotal. And sure, for some conditions the healtcare system is good and works, but even then people die waiting for treatment. The failing healthcare system was actually one of the big topics for our recent election, so we’ll see if the new elected parties will manage to make any positive change – or just make even more of a mess..

    • David says

      Glenn, Regarding your Crohn’s, IBS, autoimmune issues, etc, there is a lot of information on this site on how to treat those conditions, have you tried all of it?

      • Glenn says

        Thank you for the recommendations, and I’ve been following Chris’ advice and articles for some time now – found him through Robb Wolf.

        The Crohn’s/IBS I started getting a hold of back in 2005. And since I stated to the gastrologist that a year of restricting my diet, from gluten and dairy, had greatly reduced my stomach-issues (and were confirmed by less visible inflammation in the gut), the doctors just changed their mind about having been so sure about it being Crohn’s and wanting to treat me with steroids – since I improved with diet it could not be Crohn’s after all; where’s the falsifiability?

        For the rest of the autoimmune issues there’s a lot of them, and quite a few of them improve when I follow a strict autoimmune paleo diet – but they’re not all ever completely gone, and any slipup or accidental food contamination sends my immune system spiraling out of control.. I’m sure the antibiotics is part of it, changing my gut flora forever – to a point where the last test showed no Lactobacillus spp, low on bifido and high on alpha & gamma hemolytic strep, as well as low SIgA. Am trying to get bacteriotherapy at my local hospital (where there luckily is a specialist in that field), but since I’m still holding my immune-issues somewhat in check with diet, and the CFS/ME symptoms are my main problem, they might not agree to let me have the bacteriotherapy.. (Although there is also research to support this for CFS/ME). It’s basically the only thing I’m holding out for trying in Norway before I abandon our public healthcare for good.

        I was actually feeling back on top and better than in a long time at the beginning of 2012, but then I got some acid burn issues in february (which I took some ant-acid that I probably shouldn’t have for about a week) and then a few weeks later got hit hard with mononucleosis and haven’t recovered since.

        After the EBV I’ve been dependant on caffeine (never drank coffe or much soda before) and much more carbs to stave off debilitating headaches. But of course this has come with a price to the autoimmune conditions again..

        Finally getting a lumbar puncture (spinal fluid test) in two weeks, to see if they can find any active viruses or something to explain the prolonged issues.. Not expecting much from it though, which is why I’m considering a new trip to the US for further testing and treatment. A year ago I found I’m one of the lucky ones with lots of methylation DNA mutations, which could potentially help explain lots of my issues, but there’s noone in our norwegian ‘superior healtcare’ system that knows or is available to consult on this issue.

        • Laughlyn says

          Sorry to hear this, good luck to you finding some form of appropriate treatment.

          I’ve experienced the same thing over here in Sweden regarding the antibiotics. People used to get prescriptions for the common cold and acne without much trouble.

        • Laura says

          Dear Glenn,

          You may want to look into the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet). I started on the Paleo Diet but found I needed smaller, slower healing steps. I probably have a leaky gut; my gut was not responding well to the Paleo Diet. For example, following one Paleo recommendation of being sure to have 1/4 cup raw, organic sauerkraut with breakfast (which I dutifully did for 3 days) put me directly into a healing crisis; it was way too much probiotic, way too fast for me.

          I find that the Paleo Diet books – in general – do not understand or factor in that BEFORE your (older or disabled) body can benefit from such a great diet you need to take slow, methodical steps to HEAL your gut and introduce probiotics and fermented foods at a snail’s pace, carefully monitoring your own symptoms and adjust, as needed, on a daily basis.

          As you know, living every day with a disability: there are good days and there are bad days. GAPS understands that.

          In other words, if you are older or have a disability or chronic illnesses, such as you mention, you need to have a well thought out protocol for healing first …your body can tell you (by you having knowledgeable guides, by you paying attention, journaling and observing) what it can and can’t eat and in what order to introduce foods. Through the process you give yourself every opportunity to detoxify (baths, saunas, rest…), go slow and allow the gut to heal …and introduce probiotics …with you in control of the healing.

          The GAPS Diet is close to a Paleo Diet. It has proven to be just the thing my gut/brain needed. The diet was started by an MD (Dr. Campbell-McBride) who sought to heal her child of autism; it is based upon the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).

          The book she published was intended to be a detailed workbook that an individual or family could use – without additional help if it was not available – to heal various disabilities and illnesses. She sought to truly help families whom the traditional medical system was failing.

          Let me tell you, the parents and people who post on GAPS’ sites know their probiotics and bacterias (good and bad) cold! They know what to do if you are allergic to, for ex., sulfur foods (and what those foods are and what probiotics / foods to take…or avoid.) They are in earnest about healing a son or daughter (or themselves and the whole family) because the medical system has given up on them or offers nothing (autism, ADD, ADHD, etc.). They can relate symptoms directly to a possible bacteria, yeast or food issue. And they get the vital importance of probiotics and fermentables. Very smart, savvy, helpful group.

          So, go explore and study! …and go slow!

          http://gaps.me/
          (Dr. Campbell-McBride’s website)

          http://www.doctor-natasha.com/index.php
          (Dr. C-M’s blog)

          Her book: GAPS Guide: Simple Steps to Heal Bowels, Body and Brain, 2nd Edition

          http://www.gapsdiet.com/
          (Go to the FAQS area for tons of answers to GAPS issues; updated regularly)

          http://www.badenlashkov.com/2010/06/10/questions/
          (This is a resource directing you to GAPS urls. This is posted by Baden Lashkov who is a co-moderator of the GAPS Yahoo list. She has a step-by-step GAPS book out, great for the beginner: GAPS Guide.)

          Here is the GAPS Yahoo group:
          http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/GAPShelp/info

          A great GAPS blog with an intro to what GAPS is:
          http://www.lovingourguts.com/what-is-gaps-2/

          Here is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which is the diet upon which Dr. Campbell-McBride based her GAPS diet:
          http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/home/

          Here is the difference between GAPS and SCD:
          http://www.badenlashkov.com/2008/12/05/differences-between-scd-gaps/

          Here is the SCD/GAPS list of legal/illegal foods:
          http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/legal/listing/

          Here is an awesome site run by (I think) parents who have children with one or another disability which SCD is helping. This site is amazing! Go read up on their knowledge of bacteria, yeasts, etc. and probiotics!
          http://www.pecanbread.com/

          One more thought, Glenn: a dear friend who has CFS/FM is applying the work of Dr. Terry Wahls to help heal her chronic illnesses (she, too, started on Paleo and hit roadbumps). Dr. Wahl’s healed herself of progressive MS. Her process is close to Paleo but she has also focused on healing the mitochondria:
          http://www.terrywahls.com/

          If you have a disability, IMHO, a straight Paleo Diet will probably not work. Your body needs more TLC and slow steps that factor in “healing first.”

          BTW, I live in the states but my brother lives in Norway. I am trying to get him to start the Paleo diet (and find some of the fermented cod liver oil that I hear you Norwegians have eaten for centuries!)

          HTH,
          Laura

  5. May says

    I have to agree with Glenn to a certain degree. What is happening in Scandinavia is much despite government recommendations. We are a somewhat stubborn and self-determined bunch though, and word-of-mouth in many cases means more than official guidelines. Chris is right that we never were as frightened of fat as the Americans, I suppose that helps as well.

  6. Vellu says

    Thanks for the great articles and keep up the good work! As a Finn, I’d like to comment couple of things:

    It’s hard to believe that we would be one of the healthiest and happiest populations, since more than one million of 5,5 millions Finns use antidepressants! Lots of people also seem to be very stressed here. Finns drink like hell, are obese and don’t excercise nearly enough. We are going to have a huge problem in the future if this is gonna continue the same way, since it’s really common to be obese and have bunch of allergies and atopic skin in childhood, get 2-type diabetes in mid-school and heart disease, autoimmune diseases, cancers etc. later in life.

    What comes to bread and milk, most Finnish breads are made of wheat or at least include wheat or wheat gluten. It’s actually quite hard to find some 100% rye bread that’s been made of sourdough. Finns seem to tolerate lactose very well, indeed. However, the highly processed A1-type milk seems to be problematic for many people. In typical Finnish market you can find dozen of different types of processed milk products: zero-fat, added calcium, lactose-free, uht…

    The North Karelia project is often referred to prove that saturated fat equals heart disease. However, they had originally Kuopio there as well as a control group, but since the mortality decreased there even more in spite of fatty food and butter, it was wiped off in the official conclusion. The project began in 1972, when the mortality had already been going down for couple of years, so one can assume saturated fat doesn’t play a huge role there.

    The Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare is highly corrupted as they get lots of funds from the food industry. Thus, their basic message here is about the same as in the US: “Eat lots of bread, skimmed milk, vegetable oils etc. Sugar, aspartame or processed food are not harmful, but saturated fat will kill you..”

    Nevertheless, it seems more and more people are getting interested in what they eat. We had a huge low-carb boom some years ago and now it seems the paleo-wheel is beginning to roll here! Greetings from Finland!

    Vellu

    • Karina says

      I agree a lot with my countryman Vellu. The greatest thing that has happened during the recent years is that local traditional food have become popular again. In a way you could say that we Finns (and many other scandinavians) eat Paleo. We pick berries, mushrooms, go fishing, grow our own vegetables etc. Many of us ldo this 2-6 months of the year at our summer cottage, often in quite primitive conditions, spending a lot of time outside, we often have sauna if not every day than at least every week. Unfortunately alcohol consumption is way too high and is maybe the biggest challenge ahead of us. Thank you Chris and everyone else out there for great information and interesting discussions!

  7. Paloma says

    This summer I travelled around northern Europe and I was truly disappointed by the huge amount of macdonalds and burquer king restaurants I saw in Sweden. Sometimes you could have a nice big salad, with chicken or shrimps, which is good, but not everywhere. The local traditional Scandinavian cuisine is very expensive (300 SEK a plate) and not really available for everyone. However, I find good is good to remark its potential benefits. At hotels and cafes, the standard milk was half skimmed, and I even saw low fat butter at the breakfast buffet.
    However, Swedish people seemed very healthy and were not fat. I believe that it is because they all go to the gym and like to sunbathe, and do not eat too much.
    You did not speak about it, but I found it very sad that Germany food and beverages are hell: No tap water served at any restaurant, beer was cheaper than bottled water and they just eat pork (not the ibérico that we have here in Spain) and potatoes. They all were obese or very obese. Angela Merkel, you have to change many things right now or next German generation will be ill from their birth!
    On the other hand, Denmark had more healthy food choices and it was amazing the amount of people riding their bikes at Copenhagen. A lot of dairy, as well. Very rare to spot any obese person.
    I did not travel to Norway so I do not know how they cater over there.
    From my reduced point of view, the best places to eat are:
    1. California (never been there but have some friends that went there).
    2. Spain (we have a long tradition of eating good quality products, and there are as well fast food choices, but it is easy to eat fairly well at any non expensive traditional restaurant)
    3. France (they have a lot of meat and fresh fish choices as well, and they like very much berries).

    I have lived and visited England, Ireland, Italy and the countries above.

    To Glenn: I am sorry about your problems, but do not think that in other countries are different. Spanish doctors are also arrogant with a very narrow indoctrinated view, not up to date on research, and love giving nutrition advice without any real understanding or education on the topic :P. There are quite a few exceptions, of course, but when you have a chronic disease, either you go and visit Chris, or you try to learn and heal yourself. Good luck! (I have healed myself an umbilical hernia -not healed, but there is no need of an operation any more-, a serious chronic backache, and a mild depression, and avoided two c-sections that are the standard procedure here for giving birth when you go to a private tocologist). Your health is yours, remember it!

  8. Mandy says

    I love this series. I think it’s fascinating to see what other culture’s eat and how our culture has infiltrated others (as evidenced by some of the comments).

  9. Amy says

    I’ve read in numerous places that while Nordic countries have a long life expectancy, they also have some of the highest rates of chronic illness in the world. I would be inclined to attribute the life expectancy numbers to a social safety net that is much better than we have in America. A good safety net reduces excessive stress, and we know that excessive stress speeds up the aging process. Another factor is family closeness – in America, families are often spread to all the corners of the continent. Again, loneliness speeds up aging.

    Regarding exercise, Nordic cultures are traditionally more active than North American culture. This may be changing, of course. Less tv, more cross country skiing would go a long way toward extending the lives of Americans, too.

    Regarding bread/wheat/rye – I have discovered that sourdough rye bread does not negatively effect how I feel, but every other grain product does. I do not know why. Rice is the worst for me, and again, I do not know why, but I suspect it is blood-sugar related. I only discovered these things through keeping a food diary.

  10. Christine says

    First of all (and I tweeted Chris about this as well), the suggestion that the Nordic countries are *becoming* Westernized irks me. In what ways are these countries not Western already? If, say, Sweden (where I’m from) isn’t a Western country, then what is? If what is meant by this is that Swedes eat slightly (emphasis on slightly) less fast food, then that is a better description.

    As a Swede who has lived for a few years in the States (back home now though), these are my thoughts:
    Swedes absolutely do have a sweet tooth. People eat quite a bit of candy, and ice cream is popular all year round. However, something that surprised me when I first spent an extended time in the States was the amount of sugar in “food.” Swedes eat lots of sweets, but generally make a clear distinction between a snack and an actual meal. Case in point: sweetened cereal (I once bought a box of something “for women” with vanilla and almond in it when I lived in the U.S. and was shocked by how sweet it was, and kids’ cereals are often even worse.) I was also taken aback by how common it is to send kids to school with a small bag of potato chips or cookies. Since when does this count as food? Granted, in Sweden kids are served cooked food at school, but even if this were not the case, I doubt very many parents would feel comfortable making “snacks” regular lunchtime treats. Still, my guess is that Swedes eat nearly as much sugar as Americans overall.

    What I think does make a difference is:

    1) people move around much more. No, I don’t think Swedes are that more likely to be joggers or gym goers, it’s more the case of having a whole country with the same movement patterns as New Yorkers. People certainly own cars, but are less dependent on them, walk more, ride public transportation and so on.

    2) PORTION SIZES! I know that it may not be kosher to talk about this in some circles (lest you be accused of suggesting a calorie is a calorie), but this an obvious difference. I was in the U.S. just a couple of weeks ago (Baltimore, to be exact), and I pretty much decided to just order starters in most places since that is almost always plenty. The one thing Swedish first time travelers to the U.S. comment on is the portion sizes. And it’s not as if not being able to eat to satiety is a problem in Sweden. We don’t eat less because there’s no food, we simply have a completely different idea of what a portion looks like. The more interesting question is what key factors in the American food supply makes it *possible* to eat as much as many people do. Hunger signaling gone awry must be a big part of why so many end up severely obese. While Swedes do love their cinnamon rolls, you’d have to eat four or five to match a big one from Cinnabon.

    3) Cooking and eating at home. I have never heard a Swedish woman (or man under the age of 45) state that they “can’t” or “don’t” cook. What does that even mean? It’s a basic life skill, kind of like being able to tell time and tying your shoes. Yes, people are eating out more these days, but a lot of cooking still happens in the home, and occasionally having other people over for a cooked meal (preferably three courses) in your home is still very much a normal part of Swedish social life. A higher proportion of cooked meals limits the non-food weirdness that ends up in the food and makes it more nutritious.

  11. John McDonell says

    Hi Glenn,
    I think we met online @ a decade ago) – need to try this (before traveling to the USA) http://www.drdavidwilliams.com … called Probiotic Advantage. Iseems that many of us have trouble with stomach acidity. It destroys in excess of 90% of gut bacteria leaving the floa (which is after the stomach – weak with a leaky gut, etc. The fix then is to bi-pass this acidity and spread the microbes over the ENTIRE GI-tract.
    Supplements like colostrum (usually from cows) can be manufactured to mime human colostrum. A NEWBORN OF ANY SPECIES HAS NO ACIDITY IN ITS STOMACH, SO THERE IS NO NEED TO BI-PASS. If we eat colostrum as adults however, we’ll need to bi-pass stomach acidity by eating colostrum [with its bile salt (also degraded by acidity) - taurocholate] that has been enteric-coated.

    The Scandinavian link may come about because we need the extra nutrient boost of fermented seaweed like Japanese natto, or Sea Clear. We also may be helped by fermented cod liver oil.

    • Glenn says

      What a coincidence!
      I recall your name, but not quite sure where from – the BTD forums?

      Thank you for the recommendation, have you tried it with any good results yourself?
      My biggest concern with that product is the trace amounts of milk. The slightest amount of dairy can make my sinuses go balistic (ghee is ok though, so just the whey, casein and lactose to worry about)..

      I can’t remember for sure, but I believe natto was also mentioned when reading about biofilm breakdown – willl have to go back and check..

      Good to hear from you John.
      I hope you are doing well :)

      • John McDonell says

        I’m getting OLD…. Glenn,
        & no can’t give you any first hand recommendations, but the theory fits
        a) your gut seems hypersensitive – have you tried zinc carnosine to ‘calm’ it?
        b) if this does work, (special) colostrum should help immensely – try Caprabiotics Plus+, a goat probiotic that has been fermented.
        Am unsure about return-to-health with diet recommendations (eg. paleo) pointed only at adults. Our first food was human-colostrum.. However as newborns we had no stomach acid to bi-pass. Taking colostrum as adults does require special protection and this has some ‘special’ coating, that should serve you well.

  12. Tina says

    I have to agree with both Glenn and Christine. Christine is absolutely right when it comes to portion size and eating less vegetables. Also regarding the amount of candy being eaten. I live in Denmark and I’m just as frustrated with the healthcare system as Glenn is in Norway. It’s extremely hard to take your health into your own hands but that’s the only option here if you want to get somewhere. Danish doctors are not into functional medicine – they think they are being holistic and very futuristic when they recommend acupuncture (which has only been here for a few years now). Our government continuously disallows medicine that is available to people in the US because they want to do their own testing which will take them around 10 years (by which time it will be old news everywhere else!) I suffer from chronic migraine and I have been through the whole system. From doctors who think they know my body better than me handing me pills that are supposedly “new” but have been on the market for 10 years in the US – to the neurologist in the pocket of the medicinal industry proscribing me a drug and then handing me a pen with the advertisement on too (that should have been a red flag right there but hmm when you’re desperate…) when I go to the doctors and tell them about my research and results regarding both functional medicine and paleo they look at me like I’m not quite right and all say they have never heard of it. It’s a fact that Denmark is 10 years behind many many times compared to other places. Regarding the quality of the healthcare – I simply have to say that I’ve been having this debate many times with my American friends. I’m sure there are bad doctors everywhere – US included. But the fact is just because our system is tax funded and thereby granting more people access and thereby improving the overall health, it’s sure as he’ll not a quality stamp and shouldn’t in no way be interpreted as better in that sense! In fact a lot of the equipment is older and investments in the system in general are cut that generally gives a poorer service. Insurance based health care has it’s disadvantages too I know but because it’s the people paying and there is more competition it doesn’t allow for bad doctors the same way as here. A doctor here can survive even though he’s bad. The criticism in our system is poor. People with cancer travel to Sweden, Germany, USA and even China because in Denmark they get a death sentence and in the other countries they gladly operate them – they then come home and go on to live cancer free lives – if we were that much better of a system that wouldn’t happen. I know it looks good from the outside with everyone having access and granted that is one of the good sides but seriously when you’re seriously ill Denmark is not the place you want to go! I wish we could promote functional medicine over here I’d love to be in front of that movement – I do believe with all my heart and soul that this “subduing the symptoms” rather than looking for a cure is how most doctors regardless of country is “brought up”. Sadly as long as it’s like this we either have to travel to the US or take matters in to our own hands without a doctor in order to regain health. I’d like to add that there is a clinic called Nordic Clinic in Copenhagen that cooperates with Metametrix lab. It’s private though and therefore not covered by the health insurance. In order to get tested I have to pay everything myself. Which for the time being is too expensive but there is hope for a change to the better :) Sorry for the length of this btw) :)

    • Sofia says

      Lately in the news in Sweden we had story about a woman who travelled to Finland to get cancer treatment, since swedish health care gave her a death sentence and did not want to pay for her care, since she would die anyway. So she went to Finland, where doctors said they could treat her cancer, and she would have a chance to beat the cancer.

      • Kasper says

        Sofia: I recently saw a documentary here in Finland about a woman who got the death sentence from her doctor but then went to Sweden where her cancer was cured. =D The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence..

        But chris has a point here, he is seeing stuff we take for granted. And maybe stuff that once was or has become less common, but it doesn’t make his point less valid. Also, in contrast to the opinions of many other posters here I for example never eat fast food or microwavable ready dinners and I don’t know anyone who regularly does.

  13. Anselmi says

    Hi!

    This is just my own subjective speculation, but imo the overall health of people here in Finland is more linked to higher level of social system, standards of living and smaller income gaps rather than what we eat. As Vellu wrote earlier, the health and department system is having the same biased recommendations as elsewhere; eat low fat foods, avoid red meat and get your fats from vegetable oils. We also have problems with mental health; lot’s of antidepressants and high suicide rates

    The traditional foods we used to eat were quite good: Lots of fish, game meat, tubers and root vegetables, berries and dairy fat.Unfortunately people are using more and more the same crap industry food as elsewhere. Positive thing is that there’s been enthusiasm for low carb and paleo diet during last years.

    Thanks for your article Chris, you rock!

  14. Mari says

    I lived in Denmark for several years and i agree that dairy products are very popular there. One thing among others that i loved there was that you can buy 38% fat sour cream at practically any store, and whole organic and conventional milk as well. Organic produce was available everywhere as well. Another thing was fish, wild caught smoked salmon and canned cod liver are very popular and affordable there. I loved smoked cod liver it is truly a delicacy, it is sad that almost nobody knows about it in US and it is hard to get.
    Danish Christmas food are so good, bacon and mushrooms liver pate, Pork, marinated herring my favorites, so good. And of course rye breads and other kinds of freshly baked breads i miss alot.

  15. Kalle says

    I have been working with scdlifestyle for about 1,5 years now and slowly getting better. I live in Sweden, and today I heard about the new dietary recommendations for the Nordic countries (called nnr5). That gave me some questions. Basically concerning fats and meats it is the total opposite of what you and others have written. In short from todays speech:
    “Eat less red meat and less fatty meat. Do not eat high fat dairy. Eat less animal fats and more vegetable fats. More veg oils, margarine, nuts. Eat less saturated fat. Eat more dietary fibre and whole grains. Less salt.
    Increase your inteake of olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and so on. Coconut oil is inflammatory (Lauric acid) and should not be eaten. We need more Omega-6 and it is not inflammatory.”

    That is the way to eat for not getting obesity, cancer, diabetes and so on. Basically eating like I do now with much red meat, high in “good” fats is a way towards disease.

    I listen to a lot of wonderful people in the US all the time. Work closely with scdlifestyle. This talk about real food sounds really great. But now I wonder, who is wrong?

    http://www.norden.org/en/publications/publikationer/nord-2013-009
    http://www.norden.org/en/theme/nordic-nutrition-recommendation/main-conclusions-of-the-nnr-2012

Join the Conversation