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Scandinavian Diet

Definition

Scandinavia is a term for the region that includes Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The Scandinavian diet often includes many kinds of fish and seafood, and many kinds of salted and preserved foods.

Origins

The origin of the Scandinavian diet dates back many thousands of years. Because the winters in Scandinavia are long and cold and last for many months, methods of preserving foods so that they could be kept and eaten through the winter months had to be developed early. Because the Scandinavian countries are all on the sea, many different types of seafoods were widely available. In an attempt to preserve these available foods, the process of smoking and drying was widely used. Even before the year 1000, the Vikings were catching and drying cod so that they could take it with them on their voyages.

The long, cold Scandinavian winters also meant that early Scandinavians needed to preserve other types of foods, not just meats and seafoods. Cheese making is popular in Scandinavia, because making cheese is a good way of preserving milk. Fresh milk spoils very quickly, but cheese concentrates many of the nutrients of milk, and concentrates the energy in it, in a way that can be stored for a long time, sometimes for years. Beets and potatoes are also popular in Scandinavia, possibly because they are root vegetables, and root vegetables tend to store better than other types of vegetables.

Sugar did not arrive in Scandinavia until relatively late. The first time that sugar is recorded as having been brought to Sweden was in 1324. At that time 1.5 kilograms (about 3.3 pounds) was imported to celebrate the funeral of the wealthiest man in the country. Sugar would have been available only to the extremely wealthy for a long time afterwards, and would have remained an expensive commodity for hundreds of years.

Description

Scandinavia is comprised of three countries: Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. These countries are in northern Europe and all have significant sea access. The diets of these three countries do vary somewhat, but there are many commonalities.

The Scandinavian diet includes a wide variety of seafoods. Because the countries of Scandinavia have access to different bodies of water some seafoods commonly produced differ from country to country. Sweden produces large quantities of crayfish, Norway produces lobsters and prawns, and Denmark produces many oysters. Some fish products are common to all of Scandinavia, and include herring, cod, salmon, mackerel, and even eel. Many of these fish are eaten fresh, but they can also be smoked or cured. Some kind of fish are also salted, dried, or jellied.

KEY TERMS

Diabetes mellitus— A condition in which the body either does not make or cannot respond to the hormone insulin. As a result, the body cannot use glucose (sugar). There are two types, type 1 or juvenile onset and type 2 or adult onset.

Dietary supplement— A product, such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or enzyme, that is intended to be consumed in addition to an individual’s diet with the expectation that it will improve health.

Many different dairy products are consumed in large quantities in Scandinavia. These includes not only milk, but also buttermilk, sour cream, and many different types of cheese. Each country or region of Scandinavia produces its own unique types of cheese. In many areas cheese is eaten at nearly every meal.

Scandinavians also eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, although because of the winters, fresh fruits and vegetables are available only a few months each year. In the summer, many different kinds of berries are eaten including strawberries and blueberries. Berries and other fruits are often made into jams, preserves, or jellies so that they can be enjoyed during the winter. Scandinavians also eat many different types of vegetables including cabbage, beets, potatoes, apples, and onions. All of these vegetables tend to store well, which means that they could be kept through the winter even when no refrigeration was available.

Scandinavian cooking is generally simple. In Scandinavia most people eat three meals a day plus take some kind of coffee break. Dessert is usually eaten, but is not usually very sweet, and often consists of fruits or pastries. Special pastries or other foods are made for various different holidays and celebrations. Each different holiday has its own traditional foods that vary depending on the holiday and the country in which it is being celebrated.

Function

The traditional Scandinavian diet contains many different types of preserved, dried, or salted foods. This allowed Scandinavians to survive the long winter months when few fresh foods were available. Today, Scandinavians do not need to depend so heavily on foods that can last through the winter because of freezing, refrigeration, modern growing techniques, and advanced transportation technology. However, the traditional foods are still popular.

Benefits

There may be many benefits to following a Scandinavian diet. Scandinavians tend to eat large quantities of fish and other seafood as well as turkey, chicken, and other types of poultry. Seafood and poultry are generally considered lean meats. They are good sources of protein and do not contain as much fat as other types of meat such as beef. Poultry and seafood tend to be low in saturated fats. Saturated fats are fats that are generally solid at room temperature, such as butter and animal fat. Diets high in saturated fats have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as other diseases and conditions.

The Scandinavian diet contains large quantities of fish. Fish are generally considered a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are necessary for good health, but cannot be manufactured by the body. Some evidence suggests that including these in a healthy diet may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating a diet that is low in fatty meats can also help to control weight. Protein is a necessary part of any healthy diet, and getting protein from sources such as seafood and poultry that are low in fat can help a dieter eliminate unnecessary calories from the diet.

Risks

Every diet has some risks associated with it. The Scandinavian diet is often high in sodium because the traditional diet includes so many salted, cured, or otherwise preserved foods. A high level of sodium intake has many risks associated with it. Some sources indicate that a diet including a large quantity of salted and salt-cured foods has led Scandinavians to have an increased incidence of stomach cancer. People who eat diets high in sodium have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular disease and even stroke or heart attack. A diet high in sodium also tends to cause water retention which can cause a dieter to feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Some Scandinavians have diets that are high in saturated fats. This is due to the consumption of large amounts of dairy products such as cheese, buttermilk, and sour cream that contain a lot of saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat has been shown to increase the risk of obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Foods that are high in saturated fat also tend to be high in calories, which can lead to unwanted weight gain.

BOOKS

Buesseler, Cathryn Anne Hansen. Scandinavian and German Family Cookery. Madison, WI: Goblin Fern Press, 2005.

Ojakangas, Beatrice. Scandinavian Cooking. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Shannon, Joyce Brennfleck ed. Diet and Nutrition Sourcebook. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2006.

Willis, Alicia P. ed. Diet Therapy Research Trends. New York: Nova Science, 2007.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website:<http://www.eatright.org>

OTHER

‘‘Scandinavian Cuisine–A Communion with Nature’’ All Scandinavia 2002.<http://www.allscandinavia.com/scandinaviancuisine.htm> (April 17, 2007).

Helen M. Davidson


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