Food / Health / Lifestyle

“This Is Not A Diet, This Is How the Vikings Ate”

Berit_Nordstrand_LiveLife_768.jpgBERIT NORDSTRAND is a Norwegian doctor, television star and nutrition expert who believes the secret to a healthy diet lies in the food her ancestors ate. She tells HELEN RUMBELOW why and shares with us her twelve-week regime.


Helen Rumbelow

We are sick of being told how to eat like the French. Those supercilious books telling us why “French women don’t get fat” when, in fact, they do. No amount of artfully draped scarves will hide the effects of those baguettes.

Instead, why has no one looked for inspiration to a country with one of the lowest obesity rates in the developed world — Norway? A land with a native eating culture that is upheld by the latest medical research: fish, oats and berries. Let the Vikings conquer your bulging belly.

Enter Berit Nordstrand. It’s hard to think of a British equivalent for this Norwegian phenomenon. She has been a respected hospital doctor for twenty five years. She has also published seven bestselling healthy-eating books, backed by scientific studies, and become a television star. Amid all of this, she has had six children with two husbands.

On top of that in the photos of her gambolling on the fjord-side beach near her home it is genuinely hard to tell the difference between her at fifty and her daughters half her age. When our video interview begins, I realise I am not listening to her at first because I keep on muttering: “Are you really fifty? Gosh you look young.” She’s like a mix of Jamie Oliver and Elle Macpherson, except with a science career. Truly, I think we have something to learn from Nordstrand.


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“She’s like a mix of Jamie Oliver and Elle Macpherson, except with a science career. Truly, I think we have something to learn from Nordstrand.”


“This is not a fad, it’s medical research,” she says. “For every step I recommend, I have had thousands of patients enjoying stabilised blood sugar and disappearing belly fat. Because this is not a diet, this is how we are meant to live.”

It all started, Nordstrand tells me, when her first child was born twenty five years ago. He was premature and had a viral infection, and he was a sickly baby for his first six months, until her great-aunt pulled her aside and said: “When children were sick when I was little we fed them cream, and greens and beets. Don’t wait for him to get well, do it with food.”

Until that point Nordstrand had been eating the usual western middle-class diet; a nod to fruit and veg but laden with bread, pasta and sweets. She wasn’t fat, but she thought it was normal to feel tired, a bit bloated and a lot under the weather. She was sceptical, but also desperate.

“That made me rush to the library, to search for studies on the link between food and fighting disease,” she says. “I was shocked to find that there were a lot of studies, as in six years of medical school we had only two hours on nutrition.”

The diet that she devised for her son was rigorously researched, but did turn out to be basically what her Viking ancestors ate. Honey, wholegrains (oats, rye and barley, not wheat), high-fat dairy products, nuts and omega-3 fish. This is similar to an ancestral British diet as well. “My son became healthy, and this lit a flame.”

Her professional specialism was as a consultant in addictive medicine. However, as her fame as a nutritional author and lecturer grew, she began to counsel a different kind of patient, weaning them off their “addiction” to refined carbohydrates.

She approached both sides of her role in the same way: with positivity. She glows with an upbeat lightness; her message is all about adding more. When it comes to fish, for example, take your normal portion and “double it”. Carry dark chocolate at all times.

“I want to teach you to be kinder to yourself, this is not about counting calories,” says Nordstrand. “It is about switching focus on what to enjoy. I use my training in addiction medicine because if you decide that you want to stop eating biscuits, then your brain will crave more biscuits. If you switch the focus instead to what to enjoy tonight, like some raspberry dessert, then your brain will work with you.”


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“I want to teach you to be kinder to yourself, this is not about counting calories, it’s about switching focus on what to enjoy.”


It helps that on her programme no food group is restricted. There are lashings of desserts. The main aim is to get rid of the belly fat that studies have shown is such a predictor of early death. She cites the latest advances in our knowledge on gut flora and its role in keeping us slim. “When you change your gut flora you change the absorption of calories from your colon. If you eat more nuts and beans then you’ll absorb less sugar. If you add one portion of greek yoghurt to your day, studies show that you lose belly fat.”

How, I ask, can you target the belly? “You don’t need to, it’s the belly fat that goes first. The first ten kilograms, perhaps ten, goes from there. And when that goes then every marker of major disease will go down.”

She is, surprisingly, pro-carb. “We don’t need refined carbs that cause blood-sugar spikes. Get off those and choose the healthy carbs that the gut flora can ferment in.

“It’s not too late. If you’ve done everything wrong until now, then this is your chance. Swap your sugar for a teaspoon of honey and some dark chocolate and you don’t have to do anything else for now.” However, there may be a reason why the Vikings might have looked a little heftier than Nordstrand, at least in Asterix cartoons. When it comes to alcohol, she recommends a little wine but no beer; no, not even in a tankard.


Berit’s Twelve Week Course to a Guaranteed Slimmer Waistline


“If you are like most people, you will have tried to diet on numerous occasions, but lost hope. Over twelve weeks this diet will give you simple tips and tricks to help you to speed up the burning of fat, increase muscle mass, reposition the fat around your body and reach your ideal waist size. Moving a little more and increasing your energy consumption will contribute to weight loss too. Add in reduced daily “chair time”, more walking and some simple strengthening exercises. You’ll start to see a difference, fast.” 


WEEK 1
Swap white sugar for the sweet taste of nature

White sugar is easily stored as fat around the stomach. By cutting out your consumption of white sugar, both your sweet cravings and your waist size will quickly retreat. Let me explain why. Carbohydrates are absorbed in the intestine and are transformed into glucose, which the brain, muscles and liver can burn as energy. When we eat refined white sugar, this absorption and burning happens very quickly. Blood sugar increases dramatically. Berries, other fruit and wholewheat also contain carbohydrates, but the carbohydrates are packed inside fibre, proteins and other beneficial nutrients, so it takes longer for the body to absorb the sugar and convert it to glucose. So, while white sugar is passed at lightning speed from the intestine to the body’s cells, natural carbohydrates must be divided and separated before they gradually pass into the blood, and this process takes time.

How to do it:
Instead of white sugar, swap in sweetness from natural sources and slow carbohydrates. These are absorbed slowly in the intestines and provide a steadily rising, long-lasting and stable level of blood sugar. Such foods do not overload your body with blood sugar alarms. We call these foods with low glycaemic index (GI). Apples, pears, plums, nectarines and berries have low glycaemic indexes. All types of vegetables are also included — when you roast them, you’ll discover that they have a wonderful sweetness.

Eight ways to kick your sugar habit
Remove refined sugars from your cupboards and drawers and buy different types of honey, the least refined you can find. From now on, use a little honey on food you would usually sprinkle with sugar, such as porridge and cereal, or in tea.
2
 Cut out sugar in coffee. Try sprinkling in half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon instead.
3
 Note situations where you crave sweetness and plan a treat such as nuts, pure dark chocolate, green tea, coffee or vegetables and dips.
Keep your hands busy when watching TV with a mug of tea.
Read the contents label on all food products. Cereals, bread, juice and yoghurt can contain many spoonfuls of hidden sugar.
Eat fruit and berries — don’t drink them in the form of juice with food. 
Don’t use artificial sweeteners. They can increase your sweet cravings. 
8
 Be aware that white or refined sugar is not always shown as an ingredient in food products. It can be presented as glucose, glucose syrup, fructose, syrup or fructose syrup.


WEEK 2
Replace white flour-based baked goods with whole grain varieties 

We eat far too much refined and fine-grained flour, in which heavy processing has removed or destroyed beneficial nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and plant nutrients that you normally find in wholegrains. Goods baked from refined flour provide us with more starch, stronger gluten and less nutrition. Starch has more or less the same effect on your body as refined sugar.

Slow carbohydrates from nuts, seeds and whole grains, on the other hand, not only provide a more stable blood sugar level, they also have a positive effect on fat burning by increasing the production of a hormone that you have probably never heard about: adiponectin. This is a hormone that refuses to let fat settle around the waist and, according to studies, increases the rate of fat burning.

How to do it: 
You can significantly cut out fast carbohydrates if you avoid foods that are made of wheat, so steer clear of white bread, refined crackers, most breakfast cereals, pastries and biscuits, pasta and white rice. You should also continue to avoid foods that are labelled “added sugar”.

Seven great sources of slow carbohydrates 
1
 Rye bread
Whole grain bread
3
 Whole grain crackers
Rolled (porridge) oats
5
 Steel-cut oats
6
 Barley oats
7
 Whole grain muesli


WEEK 3
Load up on vegetables, berries, herbs and spices

Your cells are already enjoying the effect of many more nutrients. Now it is time to focus on the power of vegetables. Vegetables, berries and other fruit provide antioxidants, fibre, fatty acids, protein, slow carbohydrates and a host of vitamins and minerals. Half your plate ought to be filled with this plant power. Studies have shown that eating fruit and greens promotes weight loss because they are rich in water and fibre and can easily replace more calorie-rich food.

Fibre plays a key role in reducing belly fat. It is the cell walls and plant starch that isn’t absorbed by the body. This starch is called resistant starch, and can improve your insulin sensitivity. Fibre also holds sugar back in the intestine, so that the rate of absorption is slowed, the glucose stays stable and less insulin is required. Less insulin means less fat storage around the waist.

Chillies and curry powders help you burn more energy and fat, according to some studies. Studies also show that turmeric can slow down the storage of fat and appears to increase insulin sensitivity so that glucose is more easily burned as energy instead of being stored as fat.

How to do it: 
1 Think: two handfuls of vegetables for every handful of animal protein (meat, fish, eggs).
2
 Aim for 2-3 kinds of different-coloured vegetables at every mealtime.
3
 Eat raw vegetables as a starter or on the side.
4
 Mix chopped vegetables into cooked barley, lentils and quinoa.
5
 Add vegetables such as cucumber, celery, spinach leaves and so on to smoothies.
Use turmeric in soups, casseroles and stir-fries.
7
 Experiment with chilli in tomato sauces and soups.


WEEK 4
Eat oily fish to boost your omega-3 and vitamin D

You are now well on the way with my eating programme. You’ve replaced white sugar with natural sweetness, swapped white flour for wholegrains and are loading vegetables on your plate. I hope you are already feeling more energetic, happier and more motivated and are starting to crave healthier food. If you don’t feel any noticeable effect yet, the next stage of changes should do the trick: by eating enough fish, you’ll get omega-3 and vitamin D into your daily diet.

A plentiful supply of omega-3 strengthens neurotransmitters and hormones in your body, insulin among them. Increased insulin sensitivity means that you don’t have to make so much of it before your cells start burning blood sugar. Vitamin D increases mineral uptake and strengthens bone development. It ensures the efficient consumption and reproduction of many neurotransmitters, hormones, muscle fibre and much more in your cells. It also creates more happiness hormones in your brain.

While we do need omega-6 in our daily diet, too much omega-6 will weaken the effect of omega-3. The modern diet is quickly becoming dominated by omega-6 fat from plant oils, margarine and ready meals. Many of us now have 15 to 20 times more omega-6 in our diets than omega-3. The optimum ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2:1.

How to do it:
1 Stop using oils rich in omega-6: sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil.
2 Avoid margarine — it’s better to choose real butter.
3 Avoid soy milk.
4 Double the size of the pieces of fish that you serve — they should be 150-175g.
5 Choose fish for dinner two or three times a week.


WEEK 5 
Replace white rice and pasta with grains, pulses and veg

Modern wheat is a totally different grain than that which your great-grandmother used to bake with. The refining of rice and wheat removes their outer layers, so that you are left with only the starch-heavy core. Both bran and wheatgerm, two important components, are lost and with them vital fibre, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and a range of plant nutrients also vanish.

Wheat seems to be particularly bad for you because modern wheat has much stronger starch content than before. Such “super-starch” results in a much bigger sugar load on your body.

Refined or processed foods can trigger your immune system. That’s because additives and processing can change ingredients so that your immune system no longer recognises the food as “natural”. The immune system gears up for the fight and produces an immune reaction as a weapon. The result can be that you end up with a high level of irritating inflammatory substances in your whole body.

Today’s gluten weakens your bacterial flora and increases inflammation in your system. This can cause headaches, nausea, joint and muscle pains, mental health disorders and low energy.

How to do it:
1 Stop using oils rich in omega-6: sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil.
2 Avoid margarine — it’s better to choose real butter.
3 Avoid soy milk.
4 Double the size of the pieces of fish that you serve — they should be 150-175g.
5 Choose fish for dinner two or three times a week.


WEEK 6
Eat foods that nurture your intestinal flora

Many studies make the connection between poor bacterial diversity and weight gain. Different types of intestinal bacteria have different tasks, and they co-operate to program the immune system’s cells. A weak diversity of bacteria means a fumbled job of the programming, which can lead to an increased level of inflammatory substances in the body. This weakness leads to a variety of health complaints, but newer studies have further shown that a poor diversity of bacteria causes increased fat storage. By improving your diversity you can lose more kilos of persistent fat.

How to do it:
1 Eat raw or roasted root vegetables.
2 Use more cabbage in all its forms: grate it into salads and add it to raw vegetables, soups and stir-fries.
3 Use more fresh herbs.
4 Use onions and garlic in many dinner dishes.
5 Use more mushrooms and ginger.
6 Sneak a little turmeric into almost all of the dinners you make, such as tacos, chicken curries and stir-fries.
7 Use more fresh berries.
8 Pick fruit with a low GI, such as apples, pears and plums.
9 Treat yourself to cultured dairy products with natural bacteria cultures.
10 Try a probiotic supplement.


WEEK 7
Include ‘good’ sources of protein in your meals

Protein-rich foods provide you with a great feeling of fullness, speed up fat burning and give you stronger bones and muscles. An increase in the protein content of your diet, even a fairly modest one, can make it easier for you to hold on to a stable ideal weight. A part of the reason is that the body burns energy to break down protein, and you burn calories in the process. More protein and less fats and carbohydrates lead to a higher calorie consumption after eating. Digesting protein is a big job. About 25 per cent of the calories in protein are lost to its own digestion — the digestion of fat and carbohydrates only burn about 5 per cent.

How to do it:
Include protein in every meal. Your dinner plate should have two handfuls of plant greens, a handful of starch-rich foods such as bread, wholegrains, corn or potatoes and a handful of protein. At breakfast you can sneak in eggs, fish or protein powder smoothies. Add quinoa, beans, chickpeas, seeds and nuts, egg, fish, meat or cheese to salads.

Try making these protein snacks: 
1 Chunks of honeydew melon and a little cottage cheese.
2 100-150g plain yoghurt with apple chunks and crushed seeds.
3 A slice of ham or turkey and a slice of cheese wrapped in a lettuce leaf.


WEEK 8
Swap the bad fats you eat for beneficial ones

Many believe that they should stay away from fat altogether. However, natural fat can contribute to a slimmer, fitter body. You need saturated fats to maintain regular cell functions, a strong immune system, effective cleansing of the liver and hormone production. Therefore you should not steer clear of saturated fats, but make sure that you get natural saturated fat in reasonable amounts. Your body also needs unsaturated fats (which are liquid at room temperature). They are used in different ways, from lubricating the walls of the intestine and the blood vessels to keeping the blood flowing, securing the function of the brain.

How to do it: 
Replace refined vegetable oils with extra-virgin olive oil. Stay away from sunflower oil, corn oil and soya oil, which are very high in omega-6. Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats by cutting out margarine, fried food and food products where “vegetable fats” is shown on the label. Chia seeds and crushed linseeds are particularly rich in omega-3. Use coconut oils and blend coconut milk into soups.


WEEK 9 
Pack your diet with food that gives you a plentiful supply of minerals

As you progress through the stages of this programme, you can already revel in the obvious effects on both mind and body. Be glad that you have managed to quit eating calories that will hamper you, and are now eating calories that lead to a better quality of life.

The next stage is about minerals that are your central tools when your cells burn food for energy. They help you to build a strong mind and sturdy bones, at the same time as staying on top of your fat burning. Without minerals you can’t burn carbohydrate as energy, sustain cell walls or convert amino acids to immune substances and chemicals for the brain.

Essential minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium are crucial for healthy functioning of the mind and body. Minerals are chemical elements found in the soil, which is full of them; when you eat plants that have absorbed them from the nutrient-rich earth they, in turn, will enrich you.

You can also be touched indirectly by their magic by eating meat, fish, milk, cheese and other products from animals that have eaten the mineral-rich plants.

How to do it: 
Get magnesium into your diet 
1 Make soups with cabbage and spinach.
2 Eat new potatoes with the skin on.
3 Eat white fish once a week.
4 Use avocado for dips, in slices, in salads or as a sandwich filling
5 Soak and cook pulses (lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans and so on) once a week. Store them in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer. Crush them into tomato sauce for pizza or tacos, or use them whole in salads, stir-fries and casseroles.
6 Buy organic peanut butter and use it as a filling in sandwiches.
7 Stir wheatgerm into porridge and breakfast cereal when serving.
8 Feast on nuts and seeds.


WEEK 10
Drink green tea and eat dark chocolate

Natural stimulants such as tea and chocolate are beneficial to stabilising your weight and helping you to burn belly fat. Green tea is packed with polyphenols — inflammation-curbing plant nutrients. Both cocoa powder and dark chocolate are also fantastic sources of polyphenols. These plant nutrients can, among other things, bind themselves to beads of fat in your blood, thus protecting the fat against oxidant attacks so that they don’t settle so easily in the blood vessel walls.

How to do it:
Choose dark chocolate with at least 80 per cent cocoa solids in order to strengthen the defences against the settling of fat in the blood vessels.


WEEK 11 
Drink more water and cut out sweetened drinks

By drinking water before mealtimes, you fill up your stomach so that you feel full quicker and therefore reduce your intake of food. When you drink water with a meal, the water travels down to the stomach and dilutes the stomach contents so that the concentration of carbohydrates is lowered. That provides a more balanced blood sugar level, and therefore lower insulin production. Even if they do not contain a single calorie, artificially sweetened drinks have a negative influence on body weight. Studies show that these sweet chemicals can actually impair your fat burning. Belly fat cells, especially, seem to be hit hard. Sweet flavours may increase sweet cravings.

How to do it: 
Drink water at room temperature — you can drink more when it’s not freezing cold. Put a water bottle by your computer. Take a sip every time you lift your head and your mind starts to drift. Drink a glass of water between cups of coffee — fill up the cup and the glass at the same time and don’t go to fetch another coffee before the glass of water is empty. Make bottles of flavoured water by adding orange slices.


WEEK 12
Use healthy treats to help you stay motivated

Your life should be filled with pleasure, not sacrifice, so use smart snacks and “good desserts.”

The best snacks to keep in your pantry and fridge:                                                                1 Low glycaemic index fruit such as apples, pears, plums and nectarines
2 Fibre-rich fruit such as apples, kiwi fruit and grapefruit
3 All types of berries, fresh and frozen
4 Various unsalted nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sesame seeds
5 Ingredients for hummus: chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil
6 Organic peanut butter
7 Cottage cheese, plain yoghurt and buttermilk
8 Blue cheese
9 Avocados, tomatoes, onion, garlic and chilli for guacamole
10 Snack vegetables such as carrots, celery stalks and cucumber — slice and sprinkle with chilli powder
11 Green salad and kale for kale chips
12 Pure (not processed) meat that you can slice and keep in the fridge
13 Eggs
14 Green tea in different flavours
15 Dates and figs
16 Sardines, herrings or anchovies


BERIT NORDSTRAND is a Norwegian nutritionist, doctor and television presenter. Her recipe books were bestsellers in Norway and her first English translation, The Scandinavian Belly Fat Program: 12 Weeks to Get Healthy, Boost Your Energy and Lose Weight, was published by Murdoch in December 2016.

HELEN RUMBELOW writes for The Times


 

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