Scandinavians have long enjoyed a vibrant and healthy relationship with food. For starters, the surrounding Arctic waters provide an abundant variety of seafood. Further inland, rich Scandinavian soil reaps various spoils, ranging from sweet berries and apples to potatoes and yams, often prepared alongside pork belly, lamb, or mutton. Read more about alternative dining options in Scandinavia.
Ultimately, fresh, local, naturally-sourced ingredients form the backbone of Scandinavian dining, which eschews heavy processing in favor of healthy proteins, organic vegetables, and home cooking. In fact, as far as nutrition is concerned, Scandinavian food and drink knocks it out of the park, and researchers have determined that the Scandinavian diet is among the world’s healthiest.
The Nordic Diet
Showcasing its culinary versatility, Scandinavia is even a standout in the realm of fad diets. The globally famous Nordic diet, where locally sourced food is emphasized, is a prime example of the health benefits of Scandinavian cuisine.
The Nordic diet spans Scandinavia, to also include foods native to Finland to Iceland, and was specifically created to “address growing obesity rates and unsustainable farming practices in the Nordic countries,” according to Healthline. Introduced in 2004, the evidence-based diet helped spawn a movement towards healthier, plant-based dining options across Scandinavia.
Today, whether you’re a native of Scandinavia or are planning a visit to the region, you’ll find an abundance of options in the realm of healthful, alternative dining, spanning from Stockholm’s gluten free eateries to the so-called “vegan takeover” in Norway. For many visitors, your authentic Scandinavian dining journey begins deep in the past.
Eating Like a Viking
The concept of maintaining a healthy lifestyle likely never occurred to the Vikings, a seafaring people whose culture thrived between the 8th and 11th centuries. Today, however, humans are fundamentally aware of the importance of health and wellness, on both an individual and societal level. When it comes to the food we put in our bodies, maintaining a healthy diet involves consistency, effort, and adaptability.
Referred to as the three big rocks of health, ancient Scandinavians embodied those same principles, highlighting the ways in which our lifestyle impacts our health. And without even understanding they were doing so, the Vikings also practiced sustainability, harvesting resources from the natural environment and manipulating it when necessary.
That commitment to sustainability and an active life continues into the present day. Scandanavia’s abundant seafood dishes, including the infamous Stekt strömming, or fried herring, provide lean proteins for those looking to cut calories. Those with food allergies or diet preferences, as well as globetrotting vegans, are helping the world to see that Scandinavian cuisine is far more nuanced and delectable than Ikea’s Swedish meatball plates will have you believe.
Make no mistake: Norway’s vegan movement notwithstanding, meat remains a crucial component in Scandinavian dining, the production of which is becoming increasingly sustainable. Throughout the region, there exists a plethora of dining options in the realm of sustainably sourced meat, from lamb-based dishes to grass-fed beef and sustainable seafood.
Historically, lamb and mutton were considered foods of the poor, yet savvy foodies in contemporary times can find sheep-based dishes on the menus of Michelin-rated establishments and quaint countryside eateries alike. Meat eaters can even enjoy a lamb course that’s prepared tableside at Frantzén in Stockholm, a 3-star Michelin restaurant. Or, if you find yourself hungry while in Denmark, try out the traditional sweet and savory dish known as Aebleflæsk, cured pork belly prepared with apples, thyme, and sugar.
From Savory to Sweet and Back Again
Sweet glazes are also a common sight atop Scandinavian meat-based dishes, yet fruits are typically lacking on Scandinavian menus, as the region’s climate is too hostile for most fruit plants to thrive. Berries are a notable exception, however, and are abundant throughout the summer months.
Blueberries, raspberries, and lingonberries are a staple in Swedish cuisine, used in various desserts and creative main courses. Travelers should be aware that the lingonberry is used in savory, rather than sweet, dishes such as meatballs and Kåldolmar, and it has a bitter taste when consumed raw.
Dating from the Ottoman empire, Kåldolmar is steamed cabbage rolls stuffed with a combination of bread, potatoes, and/or cream sauce, and garnished with lingonberries. The traditional dish is highly adaptable and can be prepared to accommodate a gluten-free or vegan diet.
From the Nordic diet to Kåldolmar to fresh seafood, berry-laden desserts and beyond, Scandinavian dining options offer a prime opportunity to help you develop a healthier relationship with food. And as your diet improves to incorporate more fresh Scandinavian dishes, you may find that your mood, behavior, as well as physical and oral health follow suit.
Alternative Dining Options in Scandinavia – The Last Word
Developing and maintaining a positive relationship with food often takes time, and Scandinavians have spent the last several millennia doing just that. By working with, rather than against, the natural environment, modern Scandinavian cuisine has evolved into one of the world’s healthiest diets. Whether you find yourself on the remote Faroe Islands or the cosmopolitan capital city of Copenhagen, alternative dining options abound.
Alternative Dining Options in Scandinavia, is written exclusively for Daily Scandinavian by Beau Peters. Beau is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.
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