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Nordic diet herring

Although studies have established the health promoting properties of the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet, there is a lack of guidance on how to translate the health benefits of these diets into policies and interventions for improving dietary behaviour at the population level.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, cereals and olive oil. It includes some fish and poultry, but very little dairy, red meat, processed meat and sweets. The Nordic diet emphasises vegetables, berries, pulses, whole grain cereals, rapeseed oil and fatty fish such as herring, mackerel and salmon. 

A new report by the Health Evidence Network outlines how evidence of the benefits of the Mediterranean and Nordic diets has been translated into national policies and programmes in the WHO European region, and examines the benefit of these evidence-based interventions on non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

The report states that of 53 countries in the WHO European region only 15 have policies, interventions or programmes based on the health evidence supporting the Mediterranean and Nordic diets.

The Nordic countries collaborate on policy-making such as the Nordic nutrition recommendations, the Keyhole nutrition label scheme, the Finnish Heart symbol and the New Nordic Food programme. However, most countries have not developed ways to assess the impact of adherence to dietary guidelines on non communicable disease (NCD), or monitored and evaluated the impact of programmes and policies on NCD outcomes.

The report concludes that the impact of Mediterranean diet and Nordic diet policies and interventions on non-communicable diseases in the WHO European region is not well defined and that there is a need to increase translation of evidence into action, monitor and evaluate the impact of existing policies on health outcomes and support information sharing.

Jessica Renzella, one of the report authors, said “In the absence of monitoring, evaluation, and evidence documentation and sharing, it is difficult to ascertain whether the policies and intervention are having the impact we expect, whether the benefits are evenly distributed across the population, and how interventions could be improved or scaled.”