Press release of the University of Eastern Finland on 5th March 2013
Professor Kaisa Poutanen and Research Professor Matej Oresic from VTT have
taken part in this research.
SYSDIET's recently published study on diets shows that a healthy diet, based
on Nordic ingredients, improves cholesterol values and reduces the risk of
coronary heart disease. A healthy diet will also reduce the level of
inflammation factors linked to metabolic syndrome.
Long-term, well-prepared and implemented diet studies give new, reliable
understanding of how nutrition affects our health. Recently, experts have been
more interested than ever in the importance of a comprehensive diet to health,
i.e. dietary patterns, rather than the effects of individual nutrients. The
best-known dietary pattern is the Mediterranean diet, which has been the
subject of most research into effect on health, and has become an
SYSDIET - a Nordic Centre of Excellence on Food, Nutrition and Health - was
founded in 2007. One of its aims is to define the healthy properties of food
by identifying the effects of its quality. SYSDIET’s dietary intervention
study was conducted in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland with help of
Initially, it involved 200 subjects with sugar metabolism problems,i.e. so
called impaired glucose metabolism but not overt diabetes. Altogether 166 of
them completed the entire study, which lasted 18–24 weeks. During the period,
they either kept strictly to a healthy, Nordic diet or a conventional diet.
The effects of the two types of diet were compared. An important aspect of the
study was that the body weight of the subjects did not change during the
period, to be able to establish the effects of the quality of the food.
Surprising reduction in the level of inflammatory factors
Compared with a control diet, the healthy Nordic diet improved the body's
ability to metabolise fat by reducing the level of harmful cholesterol, LDL
cholesterol, and enhancing the level of "good" cholesterol, HDL cholesterol,
to improve the balance between them. The amount of harmful lipid particles was
also reduced. The changes in cholesterol levels are believed to reduce the
risk of coronary diseases by up to 10–15% over a period of 5–10 years. The
diet also meant 1.5–2 times higher uptake of several important minerals and
To the surprise of the researchers, the level of inflammation factor IL-1 Ra
was reduced by no less than 20% in people who kept to a healthy Nordic diet,
compared with conventional diets. Higher levels of IL-Ra are believed to be
the most sensitive marker of metabolic syndrome, a risk indicator of type 2
(adult onset) diabetes, and the level also rises in connection with fatty
The diet had no significant influence on sugar (glucose) metabolism, possibly
because the weight of the study subjects was aimed to keep unchanged. Initial
observations also indicate that a healthy Nordic diet may reduce blood
pressure registered over a period of 24 hours, even though it has no
particular influence on routine blood pressure taken during the visit to
outpatient clinic. By reducing inflammation response, a healthy Nordic diet
may also have reducing effects on the body's oxidative stress.
The researchers will also investigate how diet and food components affect
activity and function of genes, and hundreds of by-products from metabolism in
the organism. Detailed research into bacteria content in faeces is also
How to compose a Nordic diet
A healthy Nordic diet can also be composed according to the principle of
locally-sourced foods. Hard animal fat and milk fat are replaced by rapeseed
oil and plant oil based margarine, fat-free or low fat dairy products are
recommended, eat plenty of domestic seasonal fruits, which in the Nordic
countries means apples, pears or plumbs, berries, vegetables, root vegetables,
legumes and cabbage, plus wholegrain products made from rye, barley or oats
every day. Nuts can also be part of the diet. Eat fish and fatty fish 2–3
times a week, plus game and poultry. Red meat and sausages should be eaten in
moderation. The Nordic diet's composition is similar to the Mediterranean
diet, but there is no need to source the ingredients from so far away.
The SYSDIET consortium was one of three Nordic centres for research excellence
within the Nordic Centres of Excellence on Food, Nutrition and Health
programme between 2007–2012, set up and financed by NordForsk, an organ under
the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The SYSDIET study has been published on the website of the Journal
of Internal Medicine.