New research is exploring the health benefits of the so-called Nordic diet. The researchers studied the health effects of a Healthy Nordic Diet (HND) using metabolic analyses. They found that this diet had a positive effect on glucose metabolism, cholesterol, and cardiometabolic risk. They conclude that metabolic analysis is an effective way to assess the results of a diet.
The HND diet consists of berries, fish, tubers, and canola oil. It is known for its beneficial effects on various aspects of health, including weight loss, blood pressure, inflammation, and blood lipid profiles. Studies also show that HND reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and death.
Nutrition research often faces challenges related to a lack of objective measurements, as studies are typically based on subjective tools such as food consumption questionnaires. The use of biomarkers may allow researchers to more accurately measure the effects of diet on health.
In the current study, Scandinavian researchers evaluated the metabolic effects of HND on glucose metabolism, blood lipid profiles, and inflammatory markers using data from a 2013 randomized controlled trial.
Examining metabolites in the participants’ blood and urine, they found a link between stricter adherence to the diet and more benefits in low-grade inflammation and lipid profiles, as well as indicators of glucose metabolism. The original analysis compared participants in the intervention group with those in the control group. This new analysis uses metabolites found in blood plasma and urine to group people with high levels of metabolites from the intervention diet or the control diet. The study is published in Clinical Nutrition.
The 2013 study recruited 200 overweight participants with metabolic syndrome. The average age of the participants was 55 years. After an initial 4-week period, during which the participants ate their usual diet, the researchers randomly assigned them to follow either the HND diet or a control diet, defined as the average nutrient intake in the Nordic countries.
The researchers then asked the participants in the HND group to increase their intake of whole grain products, such as rye and barley, as well as berries, fruits, and vegetables. Those in the control group were instructed to eat low-fiber wheat products, including refined white bread and pasta, and not to moderate their intake of fruits and vegetables.
Both diets contained similar amounts of calories to keep the participants’ weight stable throughout the study. The researchers followed the participants for 18 or 24 weeks, asking for blood and urine samples at the beginning and end of the intervention, as well as at week 12.
For the current metabolic profiling study, the researchers analyzed data from 98 participants in the HND group and 71 participants in the control group. They found that those who adhered more closely to HND had different fat-soluble metabolites in their blood than those who did not. Researchers link these metabolites to better glucose regulation, a better cholesterol profile, and reduced cardiometabolic risk.
These findings build on early results from 2013, indicating that while DNH has a positive effect on lipid profiles and inflammation, it does not affect blood glucose metabolism. Participants with higher levels of metabolites from the Nordic diet had lower triglyceride levels than those with lower levels of metabolites, although none of the participants lost weight during the study. Assuming that higher intake of the Nordic diet leads to higher blood metabolite levels, this means that a higher quality diet can improve certain health parameters, even in the absence of weight loss.
To explain their findings, the researchers say that fish, flaxseed, sunflower and rapeseed, all HND staples, contain healthy fats, and saturated fats from animal sources have a very positive effect on health. The fat composition of the Nordic diet, which is higher in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats, probably explains much of the health effects of the Nordic diet, even when the weight of the participants is held constant.
Eating berries, vegetables, fish, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and canola oil means consuming less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, more fiber, and less sodium. All of these have a beneficial impact on lipids, glucose, blood pressure and inflammation.
The authors of the present study conclude that the evaluation of metabolites is an effective way to assess the health benefits of different diets. They point out, however, that their results have certain limitations. For example, your analysis may have missed certain metabolites that other profiling techniques might have found. They also point out that their sample size was relatively small.
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