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Nordic countries’ Nordic Nutrition Recommendations call for less meat and more plant-based foods

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Landscape shot of canal in Copenhagen with colourful houses and red boat

Image credits: Nick Karvounis, Unsplash

Prioritise plant-based foods, reduce meat intake, and eat more fish is the key advice offered in the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2023, published this week by intergovernmental body, the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The Nordic nutritional guidelines have helped to shape national dietary advice in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden since 1980. For the first time, this sixth edition of the report includes scientific recommendations for public health as well as the environment.

Plant-based diets with lots of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains are advised, with the report recommending at least 90 grams of wholegrains, and between 500 and 800 grams of a range of fruit and vegetables a day. An increased intake of berries and potatoes is also suggested due to their smaller carbon footprint, as these foods can be grown locally in the Nordic region.

The report also encourages a larger intake of fish, ranging between 300 and 450 grams per week, of which at least 200 grams should be oily fish. Fatty fish, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and vegetable oil-based spreads high in unsaturated fats should also be mostly consumed instead of butter, high-fat meat, and meat products, the report notes.

When it comes to meat and dairy, moderate quantities of low-fat milk products, limited amounts of white meat and minimal consumption of processed meats are advised. Consumption of red meat should be kept under 350 grams a week for health, and much lower than this amount for environmental reasons. People should also keep their intake of processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar to a minimum.

As for alcohol, the report states as ‘no safe limit for alcohol consumption can be provided’, citizens generally should avoid drinking it completely. If consumed, it should be a small amount.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization WHO, has described the guidelines as: “a powerful link between healthy people and a healthy planet”.

“I congratulate the Nordic Council of Ministers for this impressive product and for the inclusive process of public consultation that produced it. The overarching recommendation in line with current scientific literature is to shift to plant-based diets,” he added.

Karen Ellemann, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, also commented: “The report we’re receiving today will help people in the Nordics to eat in a way that’s healthy and environmentally friendly, since it steers national dietary guidelines and thereby governs the menus served in our schools, hospitals, and other public-sector kitchens”.  

The report has not been well received everywhere, with Sweden’s Minister of Rural Affairs, Peter Kullgren critiquing the recommendations in an opinion piece for the country’s daily, Aftonbladet. He wrote: “the Swedish implementation of NNR23 in our national dietary advice should only be based on the nutritional and psychological parts of the study“.

He added: “From our national perspective, Sweden would rather have to move towards increasing its animal production – not least to be able to claim and restore pastures. But also ensure access to enough nutritious food in the event of a crisis.


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