Eat like a Swede

10 super healthy Swedish foods you should know about

Did you know that the combination of potatoes and herring is good for your heart and your waistline? Or that a breakfast of crushed crispbread and black currants in your filmjölk will make you live a longer, healthier life?

Over the last 50 years, much attention has been given to the Mediterranean diet, but what of the Nordic diet? Researchers at the Nordic Centre of Excellence have found that several Nordic ingredients are responsible for improving health, lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Some well-known superfoods are staples of the Swedish diet, like blueberries, oats and yogurt. But there are a few super healthy Swedish foods that you might not know about. Follow along as we reveal our top ten.

#1 Knäckebröd

Yes, knäckebröd is super healthy for you. For most of history crispbread was considered a poor man’s food but today 85% of Swedish households have it in their cupboard.

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Usually made from rye flour, crispbread contains lots of dietary fibre and very little fat. Many crispbread recipes, like that used by Vika bröd, have only four ingredients: rye flour, yeast, salt and water. Organizations like Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation endorse crispbread because consumption of whole grain products reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks.

Rye is great for dieters because it has the benefit of making you feel sated. It’s also loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, phytoestrogens and minerals. A diet high in fibre will help maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

#2 Black currants

Blueberries are often revered as a superfood, but black currants, which are native to Scandinavia, have 18 times as much vitamin C, more than nine times as much calcium, and four to five times as much magnesium, vitamin A and potassium, iron and phosphorus than blueberries.

As a rule, the darker the pigment of the berry, the higher it is in antioxidants. Like blueberries, black currants may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, epileptic seizures, microbial infections, urinary tract infections and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s.

In Sweden, black currants (svartvinbär) are a popular ingredient in jellies, juices and jams. Many Swedish children drink black currant “saft,” made from juice cordials, while adults may prefer the sugar-free ABSOLUT KURANT launched by ABSOLUT VODKA in 1992.

#3 Filmjölk

In the old days filmjölk, the Swedish version of yoghurt, was called ”filbunke” (bunke means bowl). It was made at home using raw milk, straight from the cow. “You just mixed it with a little bit of the previous day’s batch and put it in a corner to ferment until the next day,” explains Annika Strömberg at Arla, Sweden’s largest dairy company.

According to Strömberg, “The bacterial cultures we use to make filmjölk are actually taken from old farms. Although today we heat the milk for both filmjölk and yoghurt to 90-95 degrees Celcius for 5-10 minutes prior to fermentation, filmjölk is still fermented at room temperature while yoghurt is fermented at 42 degrees C (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit).”

The bacteria in filmjölk produces folic acid, an important vitamin for the development of growing cells. “This makes it especially important for pregnant women,” says Strömberg. Filmjölk is also high in lactic acid, which is known to improve the nutritional value of food, and may alleviate intestinal infections and improve the digestion of lactose.

#4 Rapeseed Oil

It may surprise you to see oil on a list of health foods. But there’s a reason why celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants are using more rapeseed oil lately. Called Canola in the U.S., rapeseed oil contains 50 percent less saturated fat as olive oil and 70 percent less than butter. Rapeseed is rich in healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. It’s also a great source of immune-boosting, skin-enhancing vitamin E.

Johan Biärsjö has been working with Svensk Raps to educate consumers about the benefits of rapeseed oil. “Some varieties have a flowery character,” he says, “while cold-pressed oil, such as the one made at Gunnarshög Farm, has a nutty flavor. Refined rapeseed oil has a neutral taste that makes it ideal for everything from baking to pan-frying.”

But the real reason chefs love rapeseed oil? Because it has a higher smoke point than other oils, it can be heated to a higher temperature before it begins to lose its health benefits. Fried herring anyone?

#5 Potatoes

Potato diets have caused quite a stir in recent years. Potato expert Lars Elofsson went on a potato-only diet and lost six kilos (more than 13 pounds) in two weeks.

“Potatoes have a low calorie count and contain a lot of water,” says Lars, “which means you get full faster.” They contain B and C vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and carbohydrates. “The potato is a complete meal,” says Lars.

When Lars was on his diet, he ate as many potatoes as he could. “I had no idea it would be that successful,” he concedes, “I did a blood test before and after and all of the results were better. I actually stopped because I didn’t want to lose any more weight!”

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While the anti-carb movement will tell you to shun potatoes, they actually contain good carbs, nutrients and dietary fiber. Photo: Erik Olsson

#6 Herring

Have you always wished you could justify that herring craving? Now you can. Herring is one of the best sources of vitamin D as well as other vitamins, proteins and minerals. Vitamin D plays a prominent role in the body’s absorption of phosphorus and calcium and in the formation of bones.

Like crispbread and potatoes, herring has long been a part of the common man’s diet in Sweden. The seafood company, Abba, has been pickling herring for almost two centuries. To enjoy herring straight from the source you can visit Salt & Sill on Klädesholmen of the coast of West Sweden.

Numerous studies show that those who frequently eat fish are healthier. Herring, like salmon and other fatty fish, contains valuable Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that promote a healthy heart, regulate blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and strengthen the immune system.

#7 Swedish eggs

Swedish eggs are some of the best in the world. Due to strict regulations at all stages of the production process, Swedish eggs are 100% salmonella-free. Ambitious farm animal welfare legislation also ensures that Swedish hens are happy. They get plenty of space to move about and their feed is free from antibiotics, hormones and synthetic additives.

On her egg farm in Skåne, Charlotte Norrman-Oredsson currently has 15,000 organically raised hens. “A few eggs at breakfast will give you energy for half a day,” she says. “Besides adequate protein and essential fatty acids, an egg contains almost every vitamin, mineral and antioxidant. It’s the most fantastic food and it even comes in its own packaging.”

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#8 Oat milk

One little company is making a big splash in Sweden – with oat milk. According to Carina Tollmar, head of P.R. at Oatly, oat milk is not just a non-dairy alternative for the lactose intolerant, it’s really good for your body.

Oatly’s products have a milk-like consistency and contain unsaturated fats. They’re also made from 100% GMO-free, Swedish oats. While whole milk from cows contains mostly protein and fat, oats are rich in fibre, essential vitamins and protective antioxidants. Research shows that one way to lower your cholesterol may be to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

“The combination of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy unsaturated fatty acids make oat milk a true superfood,” says Carina.

#9 Rutabaga

Because of its origins, rutabaga is called “swede” in Great Britain, but its name comes from an early Swedish word, rotabagge. The earliest reference comes from 17th century botanist, who found it growing wild in Sweden.

Rutabaga contains significant amounts of vitamin C, more per gram than even than the over-hyped blueberry. It also contains even fewer calories and carbohydrates than potatoes, while providing roughly the same amount of dietary fibre and almost four times as much calcium.

In Sweden, the root is most often mashed and served with cured and boiled ham hock with mustard.

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Eat your rutabaga raw, grated like cabbage, and you'll get enough Vitamin C to last you a day and a half. Photo: Erik Olsson

#10 Probiotic Juice

Functional foods may be the greatest trend in health food today. This term refers to foods that contain various health-promoting components in large enough quantities to make an impact on our ability to ward off illness. For many companies this means adding vitamins and minerals to food production, but for others it means adding probiotic ingredients, like the healthy bacteria found in filmjölk.

The Swedish company Proviva sells twelve different juice drinks (including black currant) that are enriched with their patented bacteria. Research shows that their products calm upset stomachs and early indicators from a current study show that patients with prolonged antibiotic use or chemotherapy especially benefit from Proviva’s juice drinks.