EVERY CULTURE has its own take on what makes a healthy diet. Often the variations between cuisines of different regions are based on what’s locally available. For example, the corn that America is so well known for isn’t grown in all corners of the world, while the chickpeas and olives that give Middle Eastern dish their recognizable flair may be less widely available in other parts of the world.
Two regionally-inspired approaches to healthy eating have made the leap to formal, recognizable diets. Both the Mediterranean diet, which approximates the dietary habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea, and the Nordic diet, which mimics a health-conscious, modern Scandinavian approach to food and lifestyle, are now considered good options for people everywhere.
Mediterranean Diet Overview
The Mediterranean diet has been a favorite of dietitians the world over for many years. Developed in the 1960s as a means of reducing the incidence of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet borrows many principals of eating from several southern European countries that border the Mediterranean, including Greece, Spain, and Italy.
It also includes lots of heart-healthy olive oil. Cheeses, particularly those made from sheep’s or goat’s milk – such as feta, chevre, and pecorino – are used in many Mediterranean dishes. Yogurt, specifically thick, creamy Greek yogurt, is also part of the diet.
The Mediterranean diet is all about moderation and is a pattern of eating, rather than a restrictive diet. As such, no food is off-limits, but dairy, red meat, sweets, and processed foods are consumed in smaller quantities, Collier says. “The Mediterranean diet encourages moderation of dairy but does not encourage restriction and also promotes mindful eating behaviors.”
Nordic Diet Overview
Like the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet borrows eating principles from people living in one region, specifically the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. “It’s quite similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it emphasizes whole grains, such as barley, rye, and oats, berries, vegetables, fatty fish and legumes, and it is low in sweets and red meat,” the International Food Information Council Foundation reports.
The Nordic diet favors a plant-first approach that also includes moderate amounts of fish and eggs and some dairy products. Because the emphasis is on using locally-sourced and sustainably-harvested produce, the fish featured in the Nordic diet tend to be the fatty, cold-water fish indigenous to the region – herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines. These fish are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
The biggest difference between the Mediterranean and Nordic diets comes in the type of oil used. While the Mediterranean diet favors locally-available and plentiful olive oil, olives aren’t in abundance in Nordic countries. Therefore, rapeseed oil, also known as canola oil, is the primary fat source. Canola oil offers similar health benefits to olive oil, and it’s been associated with improved cardiovascular health.
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