Eating like a Viking can help keep your mind sharp and stave off mental decline, according to a study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Researchers found that participants who followed a Nordic-style diet were 80% less likely to experience marked cognitive decline later on in life.
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Much like the Mediterranean and MIND diets, which are also proven to support brain health, the Nordic diet is rich in fruit and vegetables, monounsaturated fats, oily fish and wholegrains, and goes easy on the red meat, dairy products, sugary treats and junk food. If you're keen to give the diet a try, here's a smorgasbord of mind-sharpening Scandinavian staples to get you started.
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Oily fish is a big part of the Nordic diet. These health-enhancing fish, which include salmon, mackerel and sardines, are excellent sources of virtuous omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in maintaining a healthy brain,” says Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK. Salmon is also rich in B vitamins, which are vital for brain health. Aim for at least two portions of oily fish a week to reap the benefits.
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Studies indicate a diet high in flavonoids can prevent and may even reverse some aspects of cognitive decline. Apples are an important source of these brain-friendly phytochemicals in the Nordic diet. If apples aren't to your taste, have a cup of tea instead. Black and especially green teas are excellent sources of dietary flavonoids.
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Spinach frequently appears on Scandinavian plates for good reason. The leafy green is bursting with brain-friendly nutrients, including folate aka vitamin B9. This fundamental vitamin is essential for proper brain functioning and preserving memory – a study by Dutch researchers suggests that folate supplementation may improve memory skills in adults.
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The cornerstone of the Nordic diet, rapeseed oil is the olive oil of the north. Like olive oil, rapeseed oil is packed with heart and brain-healthy monounsaturated fats. The oil is also rich in vitamin E, which is essential for brain health. In fact, a deficiency of vitamin E can lead to lower levels of DHA omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and may heighten the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
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Walnuts possess similar health properties to rapeseed oil, and more besides. These tasty nuts are loaded with healthy omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, as well as a special form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol. Walnuts also contain B vitamins and essential minerals, which help keep the mind clear and focussed.
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Berries feature heavily in the Nordic diet, particularly lingonberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and strawberries. Berries are high in vitamin C, which supports the health of the brain, and the little fruits are packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins. “Any foods high in antioxidants are beneficial for the brain and help it function optimally,” says nutritionist Claire Hargreaves.
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Root vegetables are eaten in moderation in the Nordic diet and beetroot is one of the most popular. The earthy vegetable is high in nitrates, which improve blood flow to the brain and may have a protective effect, helping to lower the risk of Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases. Betelain, the antioxidant pigment that gives beetroot its vivid hue, is also beneficial for the brain, protecting cells from damaging toxins.
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Research published last year by the University of Georgia in the States suggests that carotenoids, the pigments that give carrots their orange colour, can improve cognitive ability and may even help prevent or at least delay the onset of dementia later on in life. If you're not massively fond of carrots, sweet potatoes and kale are excellent sources of the pigments, too.
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While it's an acquired taste, seawood is enjoyed in many coastal regions in Scandinavia. Whether you opt for trendy dulse, kombu or kelp, seaweed is a stellar veggie source of brain-friendly DHA omega-3 fatty acids, plus it contains memory-strengthening iodine as well as chemical compounds called lignans, which have been linked to improved cognitive performance in post-menopausal women.
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Cruciferous vegetables, which include cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and rocket, are served in abundance on Nordic dining tables. These wholesome vegetables have been shown to support the brain and help keep the mind sharp. A major study of women in their 60s found that those who ate plenty of cruciferous veggies displayed less mental decline than women who ate smaller quantities of these foods.
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Try Signe Johansen’s recipe for a salad of roasted cauliflower with spinach and blue cheese
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