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.
The origin of the Scandinavian diet dates back many thousands of years. Because the winters in Scandinavia are 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 seafood are 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.
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, about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) 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 afterward, and would have remained an expensive commodity for hundreds of years.
Scandinavia is comprised of three countries: Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. 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 seafood. Because the countries of Scandinavia have access to different bodies of water, some seafood 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 kinds of fish are also salted, dried, or jellied.
Many different dairy products are consumed in large quantities in Scandinavia. These include 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. Most people eat three meals a day and also take some kind of coffee break. Dessert is usually eaten but is not usually very sweet, often consisting 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.
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.
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 2 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.
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.
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.
Bender, David A. A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. 4th ed. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Kindle edition.
Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik, eds. Food and Culture. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2018.
Johansen, Signe. Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking…Scandilicious. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.
Jones, Keith. Diet and Nutrition Sourcebook. 5th ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2016.
Ojakangas, Beatrice. Scandinavian Cooking. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Brooke, Bob. “Scandinavian Cuisine—A Communion with Nature.” http://www.allscandinavia.com/scandinaviancuisine.htm (accessed April 17, 2018).
Helen M. Davidson
Revised by Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD