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July 2013

Researchers Evaluate Nordic Diet For Cholesterol Benefits

A healthy Nordic-style diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables may help improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation, a study reports.

Eating a diet that is low in fat and high in nutritional value has long been advocated by many major US health organizations as a key component to staving off heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke, and most other adult-onset chronic diseases. Advocates of low fat diets also encourage consumers to purchase reduced and no-fat versions of foods, even if those foods contain artificial sugars such as aspartame, or contain higher levels of calories.

In the current study, the research team looked at the effects of a healthy diet on insulin sensitivity, cholesterol levels, and markers of inflammation in people with metabolic syndrome. A total of 166 people completed the study. Participants, who had an average age of 55, were randomly assigned to either the healthy diet group or the control group. The healthy diet focused on berries, rapeseed oil, three fish meals weekly, and low-fat dairy products, in addition to whole grains and produce. The control group ate butter instead of rapeseed oil, fewer berries and vegetables, and had no rules on red meat or white bread intake.

The results showed that subjects' body weight remained stable. Significant changes were lacking in insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. The team found significant changes in cholesterol levels between the two groups. The healthy diet group also had lower inflammation, compared to the control group.

The authors concluded that a healthy Nordic diet may help improve levels of cholesterol and may also benefit people who have low-grade inflammation. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

Even when people eat fewer high fat foods, they can still eat in an unhealthy manner by consuming foods that are high in starch, sugars, and protein, but devoid of more complete nutritional value. The USDA recommends that patients choosing a low fat diet also eat plenty of foods with documented nutritional value, such as vegetables, low fat dairy products, and whole-grains. The American Medical Association recommends changing eating patterns, such as adopting substitutions, rather than meticulously counting calories or grams of fat. The exact number of calories is not as important as portion control and making everyday healthy selections of lower fat foods. They also suggest a gradual change in diet in order to prevent feelings of deprivation and withdrawal.

Numerous complementary and alternative therapies have been explored for possible benefit in cholesterol reduction. There is strong scientific evidence in support of red yeast rice, soy, and psyllium for this purpose.

For more information about high cholesterol, please visit Natural Standard's Medical Conditions Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
  2. Uusitupa M, Hermansen K, Savolainen MJ, et al. Effects of an isocaloric healthy Nordic diet on insulin sensitivity, lipid profile and inflammation markers in metabolic syndrome - a randomized study (SYSDIET). J Intern Med. 2013 Jul;274(1):52-66. doi: 10.1111/joim.12044. Epub 2013 Mar 2. 

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