Copyright © 2017 Arne Astrup, Jennie Brand-Miller, and Christian Bitz
Photographs copyright © Line Thit Klein
Photographs copyright © Cath Muscat (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here)
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Astrup, Arne (Arne Vernon), author. | Brand Miller, Janette, 1952- author. | Bitz, Christian, author.
Title: The Nordic way / Arne Astrup, Jennie Brand-Miller, and Christian Bitz.
Description: New York : Pam Krauss Books/Avery, 2017.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016058140 | ISBN 9780451495846 (hardback)
Subjects: LCSH: Diet—Scandinavia. | Cooking, Scandinavian. | Health. | BISAC: COOKING / Health & Healing / Low Carbohydrate. | COOKING / Regional & Ethnic / Scandinavian. | LCGFT: Cookbooks.
Classification: LCC RA784 .A88 2017 | DDC 641.5948—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016058140
Ebook ISBN 9780451495853
Neither the publisher nor the author is engaged in rendering professional advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures, and suggestions contained in this book are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your health require medical supervision. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this book.
The recipes contained in this book have been created for the ingredients and techniques indicated. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require supervision. Nor is the publisher responsible for any adverse reactions you may have to the recipes contained in the book, whether you follow them as written or modify them to suit your personal dietary needs or tastes.
INTRODUCTION: IT’S NOT A DIET!
The Science Behind the Nordic Way
Making the Nordic Way Principles Work for You
Eating the Nordic Way: Meal Plans and Recipes
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
It’s Not a Diet!
In May 2016, the New York Times published a front-page story confirming a discouraging truism that millions of dieters recognized all too well: While losing weight is hard, keeping it off is harder. So hard, in fact, that even dieters who had successfully shed a hundred pounds or more—sometimes much more—were unable to keep off the weight they’d lost without enduring punishing deprivation that was simply unsustainable. Small wonder that many readers interpreted these findings as proof that sustained weight loss is simply unachievable, and that to the contrary, our bodies are hard-wired to want to gain weight, whether slowly, as a consequence of aging, or more rapidly, as a response to severe calorie restriction.
Every day millions of Americans are engaged in what can feel like a losing battle to maintain a normal weight and avoid the debilitating lifestyle conditions and diseases that can result from a typical Western convenience diet. You may be one of them. If so, this meal plan (let’s not call it a diet, even though it will help you lose a few pounds) is for you. Perhaps you are looking to control your blood pressure before resorting to medication. Maybe you’re concerned about the effects of inflammation. You may even have been alerted by your doctor that you have prediabetes, and are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes unless you lose weight. Or maybe you just want to improve your quality of life by feeling fitter, leaner, and less encumbered. If any of these apply to you, you’ll find eating as the Scandinavian people traditionally have—a diet science now recognizes as the very healthiest you can eat—will help you achieve your goals, and it will get you there without restricting or even counting calories. Nor will you need to eliminate entire categories of food from your life. That’s because the Nordic Way is not a diet, but rather an old-is-new approach to eating that will support longevity and health; result in slow, sustainable weight loss; and prevent age-related weight creep.
Eating the Nordic Way—the way most Scandinavian people have eaten for generations, with an emphasis on nutritionally dense foods like unprocessed whole grains, high-fiber vegetables like cabbage, omega-rich fatty fish, and protein-packed dairy products—will automatically deliver these benefits, including an almost effortless approach to getting your weight under control. By now you’ve probably realized that losing weight isn’t the problem—virtually any of the extreme plans currently making the rounds will help you drop a few pounds in the short run. Keeping it off is the real challenge. If you are one of the many who started a diet with high hopes, only to lose some weight and then regain it all (and maybe even put on a bit more), you may have convinced yourself that lasting weight loss just isn’t possible. But we three, trained scientists and nutritional experts all, know that it is. And here’s why.
With the world’s largest dietary study, “DiOGenes,” funded by the European Commission (their equivalent of the NIH) with around $20 million, we finally have a breakthrough in understanding how and why the diet is so crucial for optimal health, and particularly how you can maintain a healthy body weight and reduce inflammation in the body and diabetes risk without even thinking about calories . . . This important new research is the foundation of the principles in this book, and the findings are so compelling that we don’t consider it hyperbole to call The Nordic Way the most effective meal plan for taming inflammation in the body and preventing weight gain for a lifetime.
The beauty of the DiOGenes concept is that we are not going to tell you to count calories and consume fewer of them—after all, you have tried that, and that approach only works as long as you are motivated to stick to it. What we are going to teach you is how you can lose weight without counting calories, and in particular how to prevent weight regain while achieving myriad other health and well-being benefits. Best of all, it will also help forestall the gradual weight gain or “creep” we’ve come to regard as a normal part of aging. That might sound impossible, so ingrained has the inevitability of the so-called “middle age spread” become, but by following the simple guidelines in The Nordic Way, you’ll learn it’s surprisingly easy to hold those unwanted pounds at bay. In short, we promise you a simple approach to composing meals that allows you to enjoy eating without thinking about calories—all with scientifically documented effects on weight and health.
Moreover, The Nordic Way is based on ordinary food—the kind you can find in regular supermarkets and are already accustomed to eating with just a few tweaks. We’ll woo you with dishes that are bursting with so much flavor, the whole family will happily join in. And we promise that once you get started, you will not want to stray from your new, healthier food habits, which will soon become second nature—and virtually invisible to the world at large. Our approach, derived from the results of the world’s largest diet study, is based on combining a moderately high intake of protein with low-glycemic-index carbs in a specific ratio, so counting calories is not necessary. We will explain exactly how easy that is for family meals in the following chapters. All you have to do is eat and enjoy the right balance of tasty foods that make you and your whole family healthier while warding off unwanted weight gain—or regain.
To get started all you have to do is be ready to eat good food! We describe the simple principles that The Nordic Way involves, and have developed delicious recipes that you can follow in conjunction with our meal plans while you get started. After that, you can use our recipes and guidelines for choosing and combining healthy ingredients to supplement your family’s favorite meals. We’ve seen thousands successfully make these small adjustments a permanent lifestyle change—and we are confident you will enjoy the same results.
Moreover, following these guidelines will never feel like a sacrifice; to the contrary, the Scandinavian cuisine that forms the cornerstone of our program is at once time-tested and cutting edge. The food world had recently embraced our foodways for its purity of flavor and elegant simplicity; it’s not a coincidence that Noma restaurant in Copenhagen has been ranked the world’s best restaurant four times.
With such delicious and simple international cuisine to inspire you and the promise that you never need to gain another pound, we feel certain you’ll soon believe, as we do, that The Nordic Way is the only way to eat . . . for life.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE NORDIC WAY
The Nordic Way is rooted in history and the traditional foods common to many populations throughout Scandinavia, but it took not one, not two, but three individuals trained in the science of food, nutrition, and physiology to connect the dots between those time-honored foodways, the latest breakthroughs in weight control, and a compellingly simple meal plan that is both appealing and effective in controlling weight. Surprisingly, though, this collaboration arose from conflict rather than a coming together of like-minded researchers.
In fact, it was more like brokering a peace treaty at the start! To provide a bit of background, Jennie is a leading scientist behind much of the groundbreaking research on the importance of the glycemic index (GI) of foods for stabilizing your blood glucose and promoting weight control and well-being. She has published many professional papers on the topic, as well as a number of books that have been bestsellers around the world. Arne, on the other hand, was a vocal opponent of the GI concept and considered the glycemic index too complex for non-academics or medical professionals to apply to their daily diets and, even more important, did not believe in the efficacy of lowering GI as a way to promote weight loss. After his research group in Copenhagen conducted a small study that essentially found lowering the overall GI of an individual’s diet for a period of ten weeks did not really reduce body weight or body fat, Arne published the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking the debate public on an international scale. Jennie wrote a rather pointed “Letter to the Editor” criticizing the study as too small in scope, observing too few overweight subjects to have statistical significance. Her letter was published in the journal, and as a result, scientists all around the globe who studied obesity divided into two camps: those who saw the glycemic index as an important tool in the fight to control weight, and those who discounted it as useless.
In order to settle the dispute once and for all, Arne resolved to undertake the largest GI trial ever. Funded by more than $20 million from the European Commission research program, the study would observe overweight adults and children for more than six months, allowing Arne’s team to accumulate data with sufficient statistical power to support his “no effect” conclusion. The large-scale study, dubbed DiOGenes (short for Diet and Obesity Genes) would be conducted in eight European research centers and reflect the results of more than a thousand participants, both adults and children.
Over the course of five years, more than forty-five scientists worked day and night on the study, and it was an exciting day when the statistician announced they were ready to release their findings. Much to Arne’s astonishment, his theory was not supported by the research. To the contrary: it showed indisputably that even a small reduction in the GI of some key dietary items, in combination with a modest increase in protein intake, is sufficient to completely block weight gain. With such compelling evidence of its efficacy, Arne felt it was time to recognize the glycemic index concept as a valuable tool to control body weight.
With the study’s publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, Arne announced his change of heart to the world—and two former opponents agreed to bury the hatchet. In fact, so profound was Arne’s turnaround on the power of the glycemic index as a tool in the fight against weight gain that he and Jennie agreed to join forces in an effort to spread the message about the GI concept, Arne from Copenhagen, and Jennie from her home in Sydney, Australia.
All this new data was deeply encouraging, promising to offer consumers a scientifically sound road map to a healthier, trimmer life. But how to bridge the gap between the lab and the kitchen table? In order for these dietary guidelines to be effective outside of a clinical setting, they would need to be translated into a meal plan that was both simple to follow and flexible enough to live with indefinitely. Furthermore, the food on this plan should be so delicious that even those unwilling to sacrifice the very real pleasures of eating might be inspired to make a permanent lifestyle change in the name of health. No small order.
Enter the third leg of our stool, Christian Bitz. At that time, Christian was a very promising student of human nutrition in the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, the largest institution of its kind in Europe. Arne, who is a professor and head of this department, was Christian’s master thesis supervisor. Rather than pursue a PhD, however, Christian opted to pursue a career in TV, and is now one of the leading health communicators in Denmark. He also became the research director in clinical nutrition at two major hospitals in Copenhagen. Together, Christian and Arne wrote about the DiOGenes study and meal plans in Danish, and the resulting book—much of it the basis of the book you are now reading—went on to become a bestseller in Denmark, selling more than 250,000 copies in a country with a population of only 5.5 million people. Since then, Christian and Arne have worked closely together, combining their work with Jennie’s to show that it is restriction of high GI carbohydrates, not calories, that is the key to achieving and maintaining weight loss. The result is a brand-new way of losing weight and, just as important, maintaining your current weight, whether you’re coming off a significant weight loss or just hoping to stave off those gradual but insidious gains of a pound here and there that seem to sneak up on us all.
Because this book is all about preventing incremental weight gain or “creep” (the kind that adds up year after year) and preventing regain after weight loss, you’ll get the best results if you are within a few pounds of your optimal weight when you begin. The Nordic Way is not designed to promote rapid weight loss (see here for protocols we have found most effective for jump-starting your weight stabilization goals). Once you are where you want to be—or if you are there already—our program will help you stay there without feeling like your life is one perpetual diet. At the same time, you’ll gain a host of health benefits that optimize your metabolism, preventing inflammation and cutting the risk that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, of suffer from dementia or cancer as you grow older.
THE WORLD’S LARGEST DIETARY STUDY
Denmark is a small country (again, only 5.5 million people) and the capital city of Copenhagen is just one third the size of New York City, but Copenhagen University is one of the world’s leading centers for nutrition research and the epicenter of Arne’s study of the effect of foods, meals, and drinks on health and weight control.
The DiOGenes study is the largest of its kind and has been carried out in eight European countries with a total budget of more than $20 million including support from the European Union. The first and most important results were announced in November 2010 in the world’s finest medical journal, New England Journal of Medicine, as well as in Circulation and Pediatrics.
The aim of the DiOGenes study was to compare the official dietary recommendations in Europe, which are very similar to American ones, with a diet based on the newest nutrition knowledge in a large group of European families, totaling 938 overweight adult family members and 827 children.
Nine Countries Where the Nordic Way Has Been Proven to Prevent Weight Regain
Denmark, United Kingdom, Holland, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Germany, Australia, and the Czech Republic
THE DIOGENES STUDY
We tested four new dietary patterns with different amounts of protein and types of carbohydrates against conventional national recommendations to find the one pattern that worked best. We already knew that protein produces higher satiety than carbohydrates and fat, mainly due to a more powerful effect of protein on the satiety hormones GLP-1 and PYY, both released from the lower small intestine when protein and, to some extent, fat fragments enter. Two diets had high protein and two had average levels, and two had low-glycemic-index carbs and two had high. The term glycemic index (GI) is one you may already be familiar with—it’s used for classifying the impact of carbohydrates on the blood glucose (or blood sugar). If a food has a low GI, it means that it increases your blood glucose more slowly after consumption compared with a high-GI food.
It should be noted that the adults in the study came to it having been on a regimen of meal replacements for eight weeks to lose at least 8 percent of their weight before we started our phase of the investigation. This is because the focus of the study was to work out how to keep weight off after it had been lost. However, we have subsequently come to appreciate that this plan can be used as a weight loss program in its own right, resulting in a gradual loss of 2 to 4 pounds per week, as well as a highly effective hedge against the incremental weight gain that is associated with aging.
After losing weight, the participants were randomly divided into five different diet types (see box, below). In total, 548 participants completed the six-month dietary intervention. The results were striking: 30 percent fewer participants of the high-protein/low-GI group gave up halfway through the project compared with the group prescribed a lower-protein/high-GI diet. The group who ate high-protein/low-GI foods also performed best—and actually lost another half kilo without trying over the next six months rather than gaining! The remarkable thing was that in spite of the fact that they had just lost 20 pounds, the high-protein/low-GI dietary recommendations were able to keep them satisfied and full. Contrast that with the group assigned to the standard dietary recommendations—they gained back 5 pounds and many more gave up because of this!
THE FIVE DIET TYPES IN DIOGENES
AVERAGE PROTEIN/HIGH-GI: A diet low in protein (13 energy percent) with a high GI
AVERAGE PROTEIN/LOW-GI: A diet low in protein with a low GI
HIGH PROTEIN /HIGH-GI: A diet high in protein with a high GI
HIGH PROTEIN/LOW-GI (WORLD’S BEST): A diet high in protein (25 energy percent) with a low GI
CONTROL: A diet that followed the current dietary recommendations without special instructions on GI or protein
Fortunately, we were able to keep following our participants because it was exciting to see that, over time, the results got better and better. The dieters in the high-protein/low-GI group continued to keep their weight off, and by the twelve-month mark were down more than 10 pounds compared to the group who used the national dietary recommendations. Results this clean-cut are rare in science and demonstrate that the key to keeping weight off is a diet rich in protein, with more lean meat and dairy products, lentils and beans, and fewer high-GI grains and grain-based products. You can eat until you are full without counting calories and enjoy what you are eating. Doesn’t that sound good?
Over time, results from the DiOGenes study have continued to illustrate how important this dietary profile is—not just for adults but also for children. In the families where parents were assigned to the high-protein/low-GI diet group, the proportion of overweight children dropped markedly. There was no need to put the children on a diet or restrict their food. Just by eating with their parents according to the Nordic Way principles, they slimmed down without any direct intervention.
Many scientific studies have shown that people who are prone to gain weight find it easy to overeat even while following official dietary recommendations. Our goal with The Nordic Way was to construct a way of eating that is so filling that overeating isn’t automatic—in other words, you don’t have to count calories to stay slim and you don’t have to stop eating until you are full.
WHY THIS IS NEWS
Over the past thirty years, consumers have been bombarded with diet books, many making extravagant claims and utilizing questionable methods, each and every one of which promised that their particular solution would unlock the secret to permanent weight loss. Of course, if even one of them had truly delivered on that promise, there would have been no need for the next one. And yet they continue to flood the bookshelves and the airwaves.
Many diet books make it sound simple: Fasting for two days and then eating normally for five days, shunning some carbs or all carbs or most fats—or binging on “good” fats; all these and many other more or less creative concepts. And though many of these regimens are harshly restrictive and in some cases less than palatable, many of the principles behind them are indeed scientifically proven to promote weight loss—in the short term. No doubt they would probably also work in the longer term—if one could stick to the meal plans. The fact is, if you eliminate and ban multiple foods and drinks from your diet, it is actually difficult to avoid losing weight, particularly if you eliminate all carbs. But saying good-bye permanently to so many foods you love is not sustainable in the long term. Few of us have the willpower to resist eating bread, rice, pasta, or cheese forever.
However, there is a nugget of truth in some of these books. Take, for example, the classic low-fat diet. There is no question that you will lose a few pounds if you shift from a high-fat diet to one lower in fats, but if you want to lose 10, 20, or 30 pounds, you will probably be disappointed—especially once you find that a number of your favorite foods are prohibited entirely. The same applies to the Atkins diet and the other extremely low-carbohydrate diets. These meal plans, which double your protein intake, are actually quite effective in making you feel full, so you do lose weight, particularly if you are insulin resistant or perhaps even prediabetic. (If insulin has a weak effect in your body, your disposal of sugar in the blood into the cells is compromised, and you will not obtain the satiety and fullness that are required to automatically stop your eating when you have consumed the calories your metabolism requires. But your blood sugar excursions will also be more pronounced, and increase the risk of diabetes and increase inflammation in the body.) But virtually all scientific investigations of these very-low-carbohydrate diets show that they cannot be sustained over time, and after a while, more or less all the weight that was shed is gained back. Most of us simply can’t give up whole food groups like carbs on a permanent basis. It’s a struggle to cross carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, potatoes, couscous, bulgur, oatmeal, muesli, cornflakes, fruit, berries, honey, and sugar off the menu for good. The same holds true for an extremely low-fat diet, which prohibits a lot of delicious foods that contain small amounts of fat. Who would want to commit to saying “no thanks” to a juicy steak, avocado, or cheese for the rest of their life?
The Nordic Way proposes a different approach. We don’t ban any food group, and we encourage you to really enjoy your food by satisfying all five tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umani). In fact, the participants in our studies were much less likely to opt out when their meal plans provided both enjoyment and satiety.
Our research and that of other nutrition scientists has shown that the body’s food regulation mechanisms are complicated, but that one thing is quite simple: in order to sustainably control our weight over periods of months and years, we have to be able to both stay satisfied and enjoy food—preferably three times a day! A food culture in which whole food groups are left out is simply too restrictive for enjoyment and long-term sustainability. Still, we can learn something from these diets—for example, that too much fat in the food makes it easy to overeat and so causes weight gain. And so do refined grains and products made from them, such as soft white bread and fluffy rice. A little more protein is good for us, but extreme advice on protein or fat or carbs makes weight control harder rather than easier. The happy conclusion here is that moderation actually works best, which is why The Nordic Way, with its delicious meal plans, has been proven to help prevent weight gain—without discipline and deprivation.
The glycemic index (GI) of a food is a number from 0 to 100 that is measured in the laboratory as the average increase of the blood glucose in the two hours after consumption compared with a reference food containing the same amount of carbohydrate. That may sound like a strangely specific measurement, but in fact all GI studies all over the world follow this exact protocol so the values are directly comparable. Nowadays, all GI values are defined relative to glucose (sometimes called dextrose), which has a GI of 100. Foods with a high GI (70 or above), such as white bread, rice, most varieties of potatoes, and jelly beans, will quickly raise blood glucose to a high level. Foods with a low GI (55 and below), such as some whole-grain breads, beans, pasta, dairy foods, and most fruit are broken down and absorbed more slowly, which causes a lower and more manageable increase in blood glucose.
Over the last fifteen years, researchers from all over the world have had a heated debate on whether GI can also be an effective tool in the fight against the excess weight. Indeed, apart from Jennie, we were against the concept initially because the scientific evidence was inconsistent. The results of the DiOGenes study convinced us that Jennie was right and that GI should be embraced.
There is a range of factors that influence the GI of a food—for example, particle size, fat, protein, and acid content. Because of this, GI cannot be used in isolation to determine whether a food is healthy or not. As an example, potato chips made from potatoes fried in large amounts of fat have a lower GI than boiled white potatoes. The reason for this is that fat lowers the absorption rate of carbohydrates and so the GI is lowered. For this reason, many cakes and biscuits will have a low GI because they are full of fat. See the chart here for more factors that have an influence on the GI of a meal. But no matter what, you will lose weight more easily and achieve significant health benefits if you replace the high-GI foods in your diet with their low-GI counterparts.
It is also uniquely effective in preventing weight regain after a more restrictive diet, refuting assertions by some researchers that an inherited slow metabolism is the inevitable physiological response to extreme weight loss. We discovered some diet compositions enhance satiety, reduce hunger, and increase metabolism better than others, and thereby enable people to stop eating after having consumed the number of calories they need to keep the reduced body weight stable.
The DiOGenes study showed that obese subjects who have lost 24 pounds over eight weeks on a calorie-restricted diet subsequently started to regain weight if they followed dietary guidelines that prescribed modest amounts of fat and protein together with more carbohydrate-rich foods. By contrast, those assigned a diet with slightly reduced carbohydrate intake chosen from a selection of low-GI foods did not regain any body weight over six months—despite their being allowed to eat freely until they felt full and satiated.
CARBS VS. PROTEIN: THE GOLDEN RATIO
In The Nordic Way, our recommended ratio of carbs to protein is 2:1 (and we will explain exactly how we arrived at that formula in a bit). In round numbers, that means eating about 200 grams of carbohydrates and 100 grams of protein per day. But an important question is whether you should consider eating even fewer carbs, or skip them altogether. There is no doubt that low-carb diets (those that restrict carbohydrate intake to about 50 grams a day) are very effective for weight loss, and also to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. You might have tried one of them and experienced the effects on your own body. They are most effective in individuals with a poor insulin action, such as those with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or psoriasis, and less effective among the more physically active and those with a genetically determined good insulin sensitivity.
On a severely carb-restricted diet, while you’ll be able to eat more good fats and protein from healthy sources (nuts, avocados, fatty fish, etc.) and more salad and vegetables, many of your favorite foods are off the menu. Most such diets require you to severely restrict grains and grain-based foods (bread, pasta, rice), starchy vegetables (potatoes), most types of fruit (apples, bananas), chocolate, and desserts. In the short term—say two to three months of active weight loss—that’s tolerable, but what about for the rest of your life, when maintaining your new weight is the goal?
Studies show that while it is possible to completely skip all the carbohydrates you love for some weeks or even a few months, most people cannot go on the rest of their lives without bread, pasta, rice, couscous, fruit, berries, etc. A low-carb diet makes life tough, requiring a lot of discipline and self-sacrifice, and the chances that you will go off the rails is high. Your family and friends won’t be thrilled, either. And they may well ask if your eating plan is good for the planet. On top of all that, as soon as you start eating carbs again, you will regain the weight you have lost. In The Nordic Way, we base our recommendations on the basis of studies in both science and humanities. The social and environmental consequences of our eating patterns must be considered, too.
For this reason, we recommend a modestly higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet for longer-term weight control and gradual, truly sustainable weight loss. You are allowed to eat your carbs in just slightly lower amounts than what you’re used to, and they can remain on your plate because the lower GI carbs do not have the same adverse effect on your health. Indeed, it is better to eat low-GI carbs than to skip them because they reduce inflammation in your body, and when you are still allowed to eat your beloved carbs, you can better stick to the meal plan than if they were banned.
SATIETY IS THE WAY TO BECOME SLIM
The traditional advice the American population has received to reduce weight and maintain a healthy body weight is to restrict the amount of consumed calories—“Eat less.” This approach has proven very ineffective, and the reason is quite obvious: Nobody has given more specific advice about how to suppress the driver of the excessive calorie intake—namely hunger and lack of real satiety. Conversely, when you eat foods and meals that provide you with more satiety and fullness, you will automatically, without really thinking about it, consume fewer calories.
Over the past twenty-five years, Jennie and Arne have been working independently to discover how to create greater satiety with fewer calories and without eliminating entire food groups. “Satiety,” by the way, is the scientific name for that elusive, wonderful sensation of fullness at the end of the meal that tells us we have had enough. If we can both eliminate constant hunger pangs and create enjoyable satiety, we have the best defense against overeating at meals and snack times.
In other words, the solution to long-term successful weight control is feeling sufficiently full and satisfied at the end of eating, so hunger takes hours to return.
Unfortunately, this is not as simple as stuffing yourself with low-calorie foods. If you subsist on cabbage soup, there is no doubt that you will lose weight, but you will have compromised on taste and the food culture you live in to an intolerable degree. We need our senses—not just our stomachs—to feel satisfied; food has to taste good and it has to allow you to take part in the social interactions we all cherish and that make life worthwhile.
APPETITE VERSUS HUNGER
There is a difference between appetite and hunger. Hunger is a biological drive—a survival mechanism that is regulated by how much food we eat and have in our stomach. Hunger is thus entirely controlled by inner physiological mechanisms. Appetite, on the other hand, is a psychological desire for specific food, which is regulated by factors such as habits and the scent and sight of food. You can be hungry and have no appetite or desire to eat, for example, when you are sick. Conversely, you can have an appetite and not be hungry, for example, at the sight of a delicious dessert after a main course. This is the reason that satiety is not the opposite of being hungry. Satiety is stimulated in a different area of the brain from hunger and, unlike hunger, is also affected by our appetite. In order to experience a satisfying feeling of satiety, both appetite and hunger need to be addressed! A meal of low-fat vegetables is unsatisfying even if it is filling, and why The Nordic Way is based on food that is satisfying as well as hunger-reducing.
FEEDING BODY AND SOUL THE HYGGE WAY
In Scandinavia, we have a term called hygge that can be hard to pronounce and even harder to explain. Hygge (pronounced hyooga) translates roughly as cozy, homey, informal, sincere, down-to-earth, warm, close, convivial, relaxed, comfortable, snug, friendly, welcoming, and tranquil. It is a notion that is central to our home life and also applies to how we think about food, eating, and entertaining.
Hygge’s etymological origin lies in the Norwegian language (and, further back, Old Norse), and references to its meaning in eighteenth-century Norwegian center on such things as the safe habitat; the experience of comfort and joy, especially in one’s home and family; a caring orientation, for example, toward children; a civilized mode of behavior that other people find easy to get along with, one that soothes them and builds their trust; a house that, while not splendid or overly stylish, is respectably clean and well kept.
Hygge signifies a safe, low-key, intimate form of socialization. For many people, the notion of having “a hyggelig time” is being with good friends or with one’s family or partner, having fun in an easy-going, not overly stimulating way. The home seems to be the most common setting for hygge, although social encounters in other locations can also easily be seen as hyggelig. People experience a sense of closeness, often based on sharing food and drinks (with or without alcohol).
When we designed the food component of The Nordic Way, we were very mindful of the traditions around food and conviviality that the Scandinavian people hold dear, and for that reason, ours may be the only eating plan that can be said to be both scientifically proven and hyggelig. The food is comforting, familiar, soul-satisfying, and nourishing to both body and spirit. It is in deep contrast to most programs that focus on deprivation and what is eliminated. The Nordic Way is about embracing wholesome, satisfying ingredients in the proper balance, enjoying good food, and spending time with friends and family—a prescription anyone can follow with pleasure.
PALATABILITY IS THE ROAD TO SATISFACTION
We have deliberately designed The Nordic Way so that you can enjoy meals with family and friends. Moreover, it tastes so good that you will learn to love eating healthy food. In fact, we’d wager that you’ll begin to wonder how you ever found the typical American diet palatable. This is not just because we want you to enjoy your food (though of course we do), but because our research shows that this is what works best—the less restrictive a dietary change is, and the fewer prohibitions of common foods it involves, the easier it is to stick to. The “science of weight control” turns out to require enjoyment, which is great news for people who have refused to eat healthy because they think it’s all salads and seeds.
The British scientist Dr. Áine McConnon from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, who was a member of the scientific European DiOGenes consortium, analyzed the acceptability of the most successful DiOGenes food regimen that was used during the trial. In hindsight it is hardly surprising that the meal plans that were more enjoyable, easy, convenient, and satisfying than the others produced the best results! And these findings partially explain why so few study participants gave up and dropped out from the trial if they were in that diet group. Clearly palatability and enjoyment of the food are essential to long-lasting success, the kind so many of our study subjects were able to achieve.
THE FLAVOR FACTOR
A basic scientific principle of taste enjoyment that we use in The Nordic Way is to stimulate all our routes of sensory perception—taste, smell, touch, and the trigeminal sense triggered when the tongue is irritated by spicy food, for example (more about this in a minute), all of which are crucial for a pleasurable overall food experience.
The sense of taste can basically be divided into four basic tastes—sour, sweet, salty, and bitter—and a fifth taste, umami. All parts of the tongue can detect all tastes, but the grouping of taste cells is not the same throughout the tongue. The density of the different taste cells is divided as follows: Sweet is mainly tasted on the front of the tongue, bitter on the back, and sour and salty along the sides. Salt sensitivity is mainly tasted in the front. Umami is also called the third spice. The taste of umami is complicated to define, but is described by some as a meaty quality. It is mainly tasted on the back of the tongue and adds more flavor to the food.
The sense of smell is particularly important for the flavor of food. Just think about how the food tastes, or precisely how it does not taste, when your nose is blocked when you have a cold. The nose has more than one thousand olfactory receptors, which make the sense of smell far more nuanced than the sense of taste. The sense of smell is engaged before the food is eaten, but it also comes into play while you are chewing your food, because flavors are released that reach the receptors in the nose through the throat. The odor signals are integrated with other senses inside the brain itself, and this integration gives the complete sensory experience. The sense of smell can also be overstimulated so it actually curbs the appetite. A good example of this is if you have spent several hours preparing food for guests and then find you have no appetite once you finally get seated.
The sense of touch is often related to the texture and structure of the foods in the context of “mouthfeel.” Textural contrasts between crispy and soft, for example, contribute to optimal satisfaction—just think about the texture of a macaron, the crispness of the shell and the chewy, soft center; or the way a KitKat “cracks” and then melts in the mouth. We can also make use of this in the healthy cuisine where, for example, sprinkling roasted sliced almonds onto a salad adds a nice crunchy contrast to the softer vegetables.
The sense of sight is also important for our choice of food. Just think about a tempting ice cream sign on a hot summer day. It is primarily based on associations connected with taste and thus is not a part of the direct sensation in the mouth. But the sight can have great importance for our desire to eat—or the lack thereof.
In addition to these four senses, there is the essential fifth sense: the trigeminal sense. This sense is stimulated by “irritations” of the tongue, the throat, or the inside of the nose. The burning sensation of hot peppers, mustard, and ginger and the fizzing of champagne are examples of trigeminal stimulation. There is now solid evidence that our appetite is satisfied faster if the food “tastes like something” and hits all the five taste senses.
Cooking to engage all these senses might seem like a complicated affair, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Start by thinking in terms of foods with the five basic tastes as the key to a tasty and satisfying meal. A sandwich made on whole wheat bread (bitter) topped with roasted chicken (umami and salt) and pickles (sour/sweet) is an excellent example of this. The same applies to a pizza: ham or pepperoni (umami and salt), tomato sauce (sweet), and topped with fresh arugula (bitter)—and here we also get the contrast between the crispy bread and the soft cheese. But you do not have to have all five taste nuances in the same dish. You could serve a refreshing salad of bitter lettuces with a sweet-and-sour dressing with a main dish of meat or fish and plenty of vegetables. Round off the meal with a piece of good-quality dark chocolate, and you have a meal that satisfies all five taste senses! Dividing the meal into several dishes moreover has the advantage of helping you to eat more slowly, which also improves satiety.
We, as human beings, have a strong need for indulgence. Some scientists believe it is one of the strongest driving forces in our lives. Most of us find indulgence and reward in the food we eat—for example, a small dessert (Jennie says two squares of high-quality chocolate) after a hard day at work. Or a well-deserved beer on Friday after a long week. The important thing to know here is that it is quite easy to develop habits that feel indulgent but really are not in absolute terms. If we are told a sufficient number of times that a bowl of sweet ripe strawberries is the ultimate treat, in the end we believe it! We can use this mechanism to continue to feel indulged even while largely giving up all the very rich foods that caused us to gain weight.
While you are on the four-week The Nordic Way plan, you should “train” your sense of indulgence. What do you really appreciate? And can you get the same indulgence by eating it in smaller amounts, but with full attention? Can you perhaps replace some of your unhealthy habits with some that are a little healthier? It’s a great habit to acquire, because it will have a big impact on your weight.
Remember, too, that you can sin with style! For sure, don’t waste calories on junk that doesn’t even taste good, but occasionally it is fine to go off the healthy path as long as you get back on it promptly. Research has shown that for many people, it is actually easier to keep a healthy lifestyle if you let yourself go once in a while. Not all the time, but, for example, on a Saturday night—and with good conscience. Feel how the strength is running through your body when you have only one glass of wine or eat only a modest slice of cake. Or maybe even say “no, thank you” to the second glass. It is important that you enjoy the indulgences you do have and also work on controlling temptation, so that you can enjoy with good conscience those times when you stray from the plan.
CAN YOU EAT TOO MUCH MEAT?
Scientific studies suggest that eating large amounts of processed red meat may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. For that reason, The Nordic Way emphasizes other good protein sources including fish, poultry, legumes, and dairy products. It is also useful to know that not all red meats are equally harmful. For example, gentle cooking processes like boiling or slow roasting at low temperatures do not produce the high levels of carcinogens found in smoked, grilled, and browned foods, as well as industrially processed meats such as cold cuts with added salt, nitrites, and other undesirable ingredients.
HOW SLIM DO YOU WANT TO BE?
After weight loss, you are usually on your own, but this is where The Nordic Way continues! We hope that you will find it a specific and simple diet to follow, and that you will develop a foundation of healthier habits that you do not want to abandon! All you have to do is follow the template of our suggested menus while you integrate the principles of the plan into your everyday life. Use those same principles to design your own meals that adhere to our 2:1 ratio overall. You cannot and should not be on a diet the rest of your life. And you do not need to.
You might have heard of the dieters who succeeded in losing large amounts of weight—the so-called biggest losers—but ultimately regained most if not all of their lost weight. Frankly, these findings were not surprising to us. Weight loss experts have been prescribing “cut down on calorie intake” for decades, both to the overweight public and as part of management programs for severely obese people. This approach does not work in the long term for the simple reason that the underlying cause of gain weight has not been neutralized, and will work with full power to force the caloric intake up again once the calorie-counting exercise stops. An important underlying cause is the composition of the diet. The relapse is not due to an inherited slow metabolism the obese people have to live with, as suggested by some studies. There is actually a way to prevent weight regain and normalize metabolism without hunger and calorie counting, and the DiOGenes study shows the way!
During our many years of working with overweight people, we have seen a lot of people who have been on a diet and lost weight. For most people, the challenge is keeping the weight down. But this is exactly what The Nordic Way is created for. Our diet composition is literally the best in the world for maintaining weight loss, as proven in the DiOGenes study. And the great thing is you can do this without feeling deprived.
In addition to your weight loss, you will probably notice the many positive health-related consequences of your new diet. But you will probably also experience that there are things that do not fit into a busy schedule or foods you have missed. This is okay, because it is important that you adjust the principles to fit you and your life and not the other way around.
Nothing is prohibited or wrong, as long as you are conscious of your choices and as long as you are prioritizing your health.
This eating plan enhances satiety, reduces hunger, and increases metabolism better than others, and thereby enables people to stop eating after having consumed the amount of calories they need to keep the reduced body weight stable.
There is growing evidence that the obesity epidemic has coincided with the dramatically increased consumption of refined carbohydrates such as bread, rice, and juice. Susceptible individuals respond with overconsumption of calories, resulting in weight gain. This has helped us to understand that the carbohydrates present in different foods have distinct physiological effects, including those on postprandial glycemia and insulinemia, which can influence the rate of digestion, appetite (hunger and satiety), fuel partitioning, and metabolic rate. The quality of carbohydrate is most relevant to individuals who are overweight and at increased risk of diabetes mellitus. The glycemic index (GI) is a food classification derived from the postprandial blood glucose response relative to a reference food, gram for gram of carbohydrate. The glycemic load (GL)—the mathematical product of the GI and the amount of carbohydrate—encapsulates both the quality and quantity of carbohydrate, and is the single best predictor of postprandial glycemia.
In overweight and insulin-resistant individuals consuming high-GI and/or -GL diets, glycemic spikes and insulin demand are excessively increased. Overweight and obese individuals following ad libitum low-GI or low-GL diets lose more fat mass than those on a conventional low-fat diet. In pioneering work, Professor David Ludwig from Boston has shown that compared with a conventional low-fat diet, following a low-GL diet produced markedly greater decreases in weight and body fat among obese adults with high levels of insulin secretion. The same group of scientists have pointed out that reduced energy expenditure following a period of weight loss can be normalized by following a low-GL or low-GI diet.
Taken together, the various studies outlined above demonstrate the importance of considering dietary composition in any weight-management program, and in particular for weight maintenance and prevention of relapse after a major weight loss.
Since the Danish edition of The Nordic Way (In Danish: Verdens Bedste Kur) was published in Denmark, we have analyzed more results of the long-term effects. From the DiOGenes study, which is the strongest scientific documentation of the world’s best diet, we now know that:
The food plan is so easy that the dropout rate over fourteen months was halved compared to those who ate a typical low-fat diet (normal protein content and a higher GI).
The weight loss difference between the Nordic Way program and other groups continued to increase—in fact, the difference doubled!
Comprehensive analyses of taste preferences carried out by British researchers, as a part of the DiOGenes study, show that the test subjects loved the food. It’s not just the superior weight control our food plan provides; the high continuation rate of people in our study suggests the food also tastes better (a thesis you will be able to put to the test yourself with the recipes starting here).
MAKING THE NORDIC WAY PRINCIPLES WORK FOR YOU
By now we hope you have a clear understanding of the principles that govern the Nordic Way. But theory is one thing—practice is another. Once again, we do want to stress that this is not a diet meant to result in rapid weight loss over a short period of time. This is a food manual for life. This chapter gives you the specific tools for using the program every day, on an ongoing basis. We have developed lists and advice for you to use when you are grocery shopping, preparing food, and eating at home or in restaurants. We are convinced that you will become comfortable with the principles fast, so that eating and composing menus the Nordic Way will soon become habit.
WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR SHOPPING CART
The first step in shifting your eating and cooking habits to the Nordic Way is choosing foods with a low GI. If a food has a low GI, it means that it will cause your blood sugar to rise more slowly, and to a lower level, compared to foods with a high GI. Carbohydrate foods include all varieties of fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes (not salad vegetables), dairy products like milk and yogurt (but not cheese), grains and grain products such as bread and pasta, and beans and legumes. Only foods containing carbohydrates can have a GI value.
Most fruits have a low GI and can therefore be eaten freely. Apples, pears, oranges, bananas, blueberries, and strawberries are all good to go. A small number of fruits, such as watermelon, have a high GI, but they happen to be the ones that don’t contribute a lot of carbohydrate, so you don’t need to restrict them. Nearly all vegetables have a low GI (even carrots!). The big exception is potatoes, which can still be eaten but not in large quantity. Carrots and beets have lots of color and contribute a big dose of antioxidants.
When it comes to grains and grain products, choose those proven to be low GI, preferably whole grains, which contain more micronutrients. Unfortunately, at this time, very few products are labeled low GI; in the United States, when in doubt, opt for kernel-heavy and dense breads made by traditional methods. Pumpernickel bread has the lowest GI of all commercially available breads (although it’s not everyone’s favorite!). A good alternative, if you can’t make your own, is to buy genuine sourdough breads, those made with authentic sourdough starter by artisan bakers. These loaves have a low GI because the fermentation process produces lactic acid, which not only gives sourdough its unique taste but also slows down stomach emptying and prolongs the time your body needs to digest the food. When digestion takes longer, the food has less impact on blood sugar levels and helps you feel fuller longer.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all whole-grain breads, especially soft and fluffy breads labeled “whole wheat,” are low GI. In general, they have the same GI as white bread because they are made from flours that are finely milled, or from a mixture of whole and processed grains.
You may be surprised to learn that most varieties of pasta have a low GI, whether white or brown. Whole-grain pastas contain more nutrients, but if they are not to your taste, there’s no need to “suffer” them (enjoying food takes precedence).
Most types of rice available in North America, whether white or brown, long grain or medium grain, have a moderate to high GI, but there are some important exceptions. Low-GI foods include basmati rice, Doongara rice, “converted” (parboiled) rice, and any type of quick-cooking rice that comes in a pouch. Sushi has a low GI for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is eaten cold.
Choose breakfast cereals that are known to have a low GI (such as Kellogg’s All-Bran or those containing a fiber called psyllium). If you are fond of hot oatmeal in winter, avoid the instant varieties (they have a really high GI) and instead go for steel-cut oats. They take a little longer to cook, but they are worth every minute.
Cooking starchy foods until well done and soft increases their GI, so always cook your pasta and rice al dente (until tender but still slightly chewy). Cooling also turns some starch into resistant starch that is more slowly digested, so a cold potato or rice salad has a lower GI than the same ingredients served hot.
Last but not least, be mindful of sugar. Of course, large amounts of sugar are not to be recommended, but there’s no need to strictly avoid it. The World Health Organization recommends an individual derive no more than 10 percent of his energy (i.e., calories) in the form of free sugars, whether it’s cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or honey. For most people, that means you can consume about 50 grams a day, equivalent to about 12 teaspoons. This amount includes the added sugars found in processed foods like ketchup, and food labels will help you discover how much is lurking in the prepared foods you buy. That said, your allowance of free sugars is best used to increase your enjoyment of healthy foods such as whole-grain breads and rolls (a little jelly or marmalade on toast) or oat cereals (a little brown sugar or honey). Many yogurts on the market are highly sweetened, so we recommend that you mix them with an equal amount of unsweetened yogurt. That way you get a big serving of calcium, protein, and other nutrients without excessive sugar or calories.
In the chart here, you will find a detailed list of foods and their GI values. More extensive lists of GI values can be found online (www.glycemicindex.com).
EXCHANGE YOUR HIGH, GI FAST CARBOHYDRATES FOR SLOW CARBOHYDRATES WITH A LOW GI
White bread (including bagels and burger buns)
Whole-grain bread, bread containing whole grains, or sourdough bread
Corn flakes, wheat flakes
An oat-based whole-grain breakfast cereal product (for example overnight oats) or products labelled “low GI”
Rice, including long grain, Jasmine, Calrose
Basmati, low-GI varieties
Jelly beans, gummy bears
Nuts and dried fruit
Unsweetened whole-grain oat biscuits
FACTORS INFLUENCING THE GI VALUES OF FOODS
When starchy foods are heated and/or put in water the starch swells, which increases the GI.
Pasta cooked al dente has a lower GI than when it is overcooked.
The fibrous shell of seeds, beans, and grains is a physical barrier against the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates.
The more intact grains, seeds, and beans, etc., are the lower the GI.
The finer the particle size the easier it is for water and enzymes to enter.
Finely ground flour has a higher GI than coarsely ground or stone-ground flour.
Contrary to expectation, added sugar can actually contribute in lowering the GI of starchy products, as sugar among other things inhibits gelatinization.
Raisin breads and other sweet-tasting varieties have a lower GI than regular bread. Some sugar in/on breakfast cereals increases their palatability. However that sugar should be included in your daily allowance of 12 teaspoons.
Tart, sour, and acidic foods make the stomach empty more slowly. This is a chemical effect on the ring of muscle called the pylorus. By reducing the rate of stomach emptying, the digestion of all carbohydrates in the intestine is also slowed. This is a good thing because that feeling of fullness—satiety—becomes more exaggerated. In the past, these foods were said to “stick to the ribs.”
Vinegar, lemon juice, pickles, sourdough bread, etc., contribute to lowering the GI of a meal.
Fatty foods also send a signal to the pylorus to make the stomach empty more slowly. As a result, the absorption of all carbohydrates is slowed down and you feel fuller for longer.
Potato chips have a lower GI than boiled potatoes. If they are cooked in olive oil or other unsaturated fat, they are healthier. But beware—they are all too easy to overeat.
Types of starch
There are two types of starch, which are absorbed differently because of their structure, due to ease of gelatinization.
Basmati rice and some other varieties have lower GI than sticky rices such as jasmine (due to differences in type of starch).
WHOLE GRAINS AND GI
Some whole-grain products—but not all—are low GI. To increase your chances of making low-GI choices, skip any made with flours and pick instead those with visible-to-the-naked-eye whole or cracked kernels. The very healthiest are those that are minimally processed, made with oats, barley, quinoa, psyllium, and chia seeds. Of course whole wheat bread is superior to white bread because it packs more micronutrients, but the high-fiber, low-GI ones are better still. Check out your local health food shop or the health food aisles in your supermarket.
HOW TO CHOOSE PROTEIN-RICH FOODS
In the Nordic Way program, protein makes up 20 to 30 percent of total calories consumed each day, which is optimal when it comes to preventing weight regain.
New research has shown that protein is better than carbohydrate at stimulating the release of satiety hormones like cholecystokinin (CCK). Receptors on the wall of the stomach detect the arrival of food and send a range of chemical signals (such as CCK) through the blood to the brain to indicate that digestion is taking place. Stomach emptying is slowed so that the small intestine receives food at a steady pace.
The most important satiety hormone, GLP-1, is secreted from cells in the lower part of the small intestine. Degradation fragments of protein and fats are particularly powerful signals to stimulate the release of GLP-1 from the small intestine into the bloodstream. So after you have eaten protein-rich meals, more GLP-1 will reach the brain and make you feel satiated.
All of which is a highly technical way of saying that consuming plenty of protein ensures you be satiated and thus will stop eating sooner. Foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products are all rich in protein and essential tools for hitting that desirable carb-to-protein ratio that is at the center of The Nordic Way’s approach to eating for lifelong health.
Examples of highly recommended proteins are shellfish, white and fatty fishes, skinless poultry, venison, lean pork, veal, lamb, and beef. Try to choose lean cuts with little or no marbling and remove any visible fat. You also need plenty of good low-fat dairy products—they are also rich in protein and contain calcium, which binds some of the fat. The low-fat dairy products used most often in our meal plans are nonfat and 1% milk, plain low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt, and low-fat cottage cheese.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can still choose a modestly higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate food plan. Tofu—a source of protein made from mashed soybeans—can feature prominently. Legumes in any shape or form are a great choice because they contain quite a lot of protein and their carbohydrate is low GI. Indeed, the ratio of carbohydrate to protein is perfect (about 2:1). Any recipe containing lentils, peas, or beans will be giving you the best of both worlds (higher protein and lower GI).
The chart here provides a detailed list of the most protein-rich foods to help you select the most satiating and slimming foods when you are grocery shopping.
WHAT ABOUT FIBER?
Many research studies show that dietary fiber—the parts of plants that are indigestible—are also good for satiety and are food for the microflora in your digestive system, or microbiome. We love fiber, too—it’s an integral part of the The Nordic Way menus because the richest natural sources of fiber are vegetables and whole grains, which are a central part of the program. To increase the fiber content of your meals, sprinkle chia seeds on your foods. Chia is an excellent source of soluble, viscous fiber that not only slows down the digestion of all carbohydrates, but feeds your good microbes.
THE MAGIC RATIO: FINDING YOUR BEST BALANCE BETWEEN PROTEIN AND CARBOHYDRATES
On our meal plans, you are likely to eat fewer carbohydrates and more protein than you have in the past. A typical American male eats 300 grams of carbohydrates and 100 grams of protein every day—this corresponds to a carbohydrates-to-protein ratio of about 3 to 1. The average American woman eats an even more carb-heavy diet: about 225 grams of carbohydrates and 68 grams of protein. On the whole, you should aim for your meal or recipe to have a ratio of carbs to protein of 2 or less.
In practical terms, this means that every time you eat 50 grams of carbohydrates (including those from vegetables and fruits), it should be balanced by 25 grams of protein. Just as essential, most, if not all, of the carbs you do eat should be of the low-glycemic kind. Hitting this golden ratio of low-GI carbs to protein means you will be more satisfied, be less likely to overeat, and will maintain a healthy weight (or keep off any pounds you have recently shed) indefinitely. As in forever.
IS THE RATIO OKAY?
10g carbohydrates and 2g protein = 10 / 2 = 5
(FAR TOO CARB-HEAVY)
10g carbohydrates and 5g protein = 10 / 5 = 2
(EXCELLENT—THE IDEAL RATIO)
10g carbohydrates and 10g protein = 10 / 10 = 1
(PROTEIN HEAVY, OKAY FOR OCCASIONAL MEALS)
10g carbohydrates and 15g protein = 10 / 15 = 0.66
(TOO PROTEIN HEAVY)
Every time you include a protein-rich food in a meal, it helps you to reach your protein target. Let’s take yogurt as an example. The natural (unsweetened) low-fat varieties contain about 6 grams protein and 6 grams carbohydrate per 100 grams for a ratio of protein to carbs of 1:1. Perhaps you’re thinking, Hey, that’s great! I’m actually doing better than the target goal if I take my yogurt plain. But not only is eating plain, unsweetened yogurt not everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no reason not to make that yogurt as palatable and pleasant as possible on our plan. The point is not to eliminate any food group or to encourage you down the path of deprivation of protein-fueled eating. We want you to eat and enjoy carbohydrate-rich food—just of the right kind and in the right proportions. So to achieve the 2:1 ratio, you will need to add 6 grams of carbohydrates from another source, in this case, in the form of a little serving of fruit and/or honey with your yogurt. Just be sure that the total amount of carbs is never more than twice the protein.
Perhaps you are still thinking that a ratio of 1:1 (carbs to protein) might be better than 2:1? That might be okay for a lunch or dinner meal (e.g., steak, salad vegetables, and a small potato). But we recommend that you eat proportionately more carbs at breakfast so that the ratio for the whole day is 2:1. We say this because most people really enjoy carbohydrate foods, especially sweet ones. If you go without them entirely and feel deprived or unsatisfied by your overall diet, your natural urges might derail your whole diet. As we’ve noted in our research, a food pattern that requires a lot of self-sacrifice will not be one that sustains you all your life.
Here is a more specific example:
A good breakfast
Fruit (120 grams) and yogurt (200 grams)
The fruit contributes 12 grams carbohydrate but 0 gram protein.
The yogurt contributes 12 grams carbohydrate and 12 grams protein.
The carbohydrate content of the whole breakfast is: 12 grams + 12 grams = 24 grams.
The protein content in your breakfast: 0 + 12 grams = 12 grams.
So the ratio between carbohydrate and protein is 24: 12—which means the ratio is 2:1.
If you need more calories (as a typical man probably would), you could eat proportionately more of both the fruit and the yogurt (say, 180 grams fruit and 300 grams yogurt). Alternately, you could add a few berries (for carbs) and a few nuts (for protein and fat) and have a delicious meal that perfectly fits the Nordic Way profile!
In terms of quantity, you should be guided by your natural appetite. Eat more if you want to, eat less if you prefer. Try to really listen to those signals inside your body. We have also inserted ratios for all the recipes in this book.
THE NORDIC WAY PLATE
When your meal is a traditional protein-carb-veggie plate, you can put together your meals on the basis of the plate model below:
Vegetables, berries, fruit
Carbohydrates with low GI
Foods rich in protein
Vegetables, fruits, and berries are essential for your health and should be regarded as the main constituent of the meal—so they get half your plate!
Eat protein at every meal—depending on your body size, about 25 to 30 grams per meal. All protein sources are good, but plant protein is in many ways the best due to the accompanying fiber.
Starchy accompaniments such as rice, pasta, and potatoes are allowed when eating the Nordic Way, but the total quantity should be only about two-thirds of the volume of the protein. Be sure to choose whole-grain products with a low GI. Consult the chart here.
Of course, you don’t need to slavishly follow the plate model every time you eat, but it is an easy guiding principle, especially when you are eating out. Below, we have put together a range of examples of different meals for a day’s diet with a high protein content and fewer carbohydrates (and with a lower GI) than normal—that is, a day’s diet that meets the ratio 1:2. There are many more examples and inspiration in the recipes, which start here.
Skyr or plain Greek yogurt with berries and sugar-free muesli, served with a little whole-grain crispbread with low-fat cheese and an orange
Steel-cut oatmeal with apple and cinnamon, served with a smoothie made with reduced fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
Slice of low-GI bread with ham and a fried egg, served with a latte made with low-fat milk
Vegetable sticks dipped in a little hummus
A small handful of nuts
Sandwich made with low-GI bread with lean meat or chicken, salad greens, and pickles
Coleslaw with lemon, honey, feta, and chicken
Low-GI bread with a serving of hummus, smoked salmon, and fresh spinach
Cottage cheese with bell peppers and celery
Smoothie of berries and reduced-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt
Latte made with low-fat milk
Turkey stir-fry with vegetables and whole-grain pasta, served with avocado salad with feta cheese and snap peas
Omelet with chicken, asparagus, and tomatoes, served with a green salad
Fillet of fish with beet salad
Note: We recommend drinking water rather than other beverages (wine, beer, soft drinks, etc.) with meals. Most of us become thirsty during a meal because during the process of digestion, a large volume of enzymes and other fluids leaves the blood and tissues and enters the lumen of the intestine. Eventually, you’ll reabsorb most of this solution back into the body, but in the meantime, it’s okay to drink water if you’re thirsty. In fact, you can always count on your normal thirst mechanisms to tell you when you need to drink and how much.
YOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS: SKYR AND RYE
Throughout the recipe section you will see several items that recur frequently, either as a primary ingredient or as an essential accompaniment meant to be served alongside the recipe and is reflected in the nutritional breakdown. These include skyr (the Scandinavian equivalent of Greek yogurt) and dense, whole-kernel rye bread. Because these ingredients will become key building blocks in your new eating plan, we advise stocking up as you begin to transition to the Nordic Way of eating. You will find skyr, (along with hummus and hard-boiled eggs) an easy, efficient, low-fat way to add protein to a meal when the carbs-to-protein ratio is too carb-heavy. Conversely, a slice of hearty whole rye bread is a simple, low-GI way to introduce healthy carbs into a meal of protein and vegetables that also increases satiety.
Skyr is a breakfast staple throughout Scandinavia that is becoming more widely available in the US; 150 grams (about 5.5 ounces) has just 100 calories and typically 17 grams of protein, equivalent to Greek yogurt. It is also a handy, protein-rich way to add a creamy quality to sauces, dressings, salads, and desserts. Some brands you may find in your grocery store include Siggis, Norr Skyr, and Icelandic Provisions. Always choose plain, unflavored skyr, as fruit and other flavorings invariably add both carbs and calories to this otherwise virtuous product. If you want to sweeten your skyr if you are eating it on its own, better to stir in a teaspoon of honey.
Low-GI whole-kernel (or whole-grain) rye and pumpernickel breads are another traditional Scandinavian favorite, and they are the breads we endorse for our eating plans, too. We are not talking about the soft, fluffy rye bread you might get at a diner or deli; those are made primarily with refined wheat flour and just a little rye flour (as well as coloring). Instead, these European-style breads are close-textured and dense, thinly sliced, and visibly full of cracked or “kibbled” grains. The color ranges from dark golden brown to nearly black. These breads are toothsome and filling, not just “filler.” You may need to seek these out online or from a specialty or health-food store, and always check the ingredient list to be sure the first and primary ingredient is whole rye grains and/or flour. Some brands that offer whole-grain rye breads include Mestemacher, Feldkamp, and Genuine Bavarian. Another alternative that is low-GI although not rye-based is Ezekial 4:9 bread, which is found in the freezer section of many natural-food stores and some supermarkets.
Other items in the Nordic pantry worth seeking out include omega-rich canned fish such as sardines and mackerel, canned chickpeas, nuts like almonds and hazelnuts, rye berries and flakes, low-GI tortillas, and low-GI basmati rice.
WHY DO WE RECOMMEND LOW-FAT DAIRY PRODUCTS?
Many observational studies are suggesting that there’s not much difference in cardiovascular or diabetes risk in people consuming full-fat dairy products versus those eating reduced-fat versions. However, no study is suggesting that butter, cream, and cheese can be eaten with complete abandon. We are guided by the evidence-based science of the DiOGenes study. The food plan that was associated with best outcomes in terms of weight control and cardiovascular risk had 30 percent of its calories from fat, less than 10 percent of that in the form of saturated fat. By reducing carbohydrate intake slightly, we have generally increased intake of protein. Some of those carbs could certainly be replaced by healthy fat like that from nuts, almonds, avocado, canola and olive oil, as well as cheese and full-fat fermented dairy products. However, we recommend that you follow the principles from DiOGenes, which puts a priority on foods like fish, chicken, pork, and eggs because they are such excellent sources of protein. To juggle the ratio of protein to carbohydrate and still stay within your budget of fat, we recommend you choose lower-fat dairy and meat products.
MORE ON WHOLE GRAINS
“Choose whole grains first.” This slogan is well known everywhere, but the problem is it doesn’t distinguish between finely ground whole grains and actual intact whole grains, even though they have vastly different effects in your body. Let us be clear right away: Although all whole grains are better than refined ones, intact whole-grain products are by far the best choice. They are more likely to be lower GI and therefore good for your satiety and weight, and they can also help prevent cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer.
The differences—and health issues—between finely ground whole grains and visible-to-the-naked-eye whole or cracked grains are due to the different ways they affect blood glucose. Breads made from very finely ground whole-grain flour increase blood glucose as fast and strongly as white bread—in other words, they are high GI even though they are whole grain. And that is neither desirable for your energy level nor your desire for sweets. Low-GI whole grains, on the other hand, are in a league of their own.
New research from the University of Lund in Sweden has compared the satiety from whole and ground barley grains, respectively. After a serving of whole, boiled barley grains for dinner, the satiety lasted up to sixteen hours. This means a lower calorie intake during breakfast and lunch the next day. If the barley grains, on the other hand, were ground to flour, the feeling of satiety decreased. It was a very clear, strong effect and doesn’t only apply to barley, but to other types of grains such as wheat and oats.
The reason for such a big difference between real intact whole grains and flour made from them is that the body’s digestive processes really have to work (hard) when intact whole grains are to be broken down. The shell around the grains is full of tough dietary fiber that protects the rest of the grain and takes extra long to digest. When the grains are ground the nutrients are absorbed far faster, which results in a poorer long-term satiety. And the blood glucose increases more rapidly and subsequently drops. These roller coaster rides drain you of energy, make you hungry, and can increase the risk of lifestyle diseases.
Therefore, our recommendation is clear: as often as possible, you should choose cereal products in which the percentage of whole grains is the biggest and on top of that aim for grains that have the grain itself intact.