World diet’s – Sweden: What They Eat, How They Prepare and Eat It
AVERAGE LIFE EXPECTANCY TOTAL POPULATION: 80.86 years
PERCENTAGE OF OVERWEIGHT ADULTS: 44.9 male; 54.5 female
PERCENTAGE OF OBESE ADULTS: 11.0 male; 11.8 female
MEAT CONSUMPTION PER PERSON (2002): 76.1 kg
DIET COMPOSITION (PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL NUTRIENTS):
Swedes aren’t just blond and beautiful—they also have the tenth-highest life expectancy in the world, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. Although the Swedish health-care system certainly plays a role in the robust health of this Scandinavian people (government-run health care covers nearly 85 percent of all medical bills nationwide), the Swedes also have an enviably healthy lifestyle and diet.1 Only 27 percent of Swedes are considered overweight, and fewer than 12 percent are obese, although these numbers have increased in the past decade.
WHAT THEY EAT
Traditionally, Swedish cuisine tends to be rustic, hearty, and practical, more economical than elaborate. That said, the Swedish kitchen has always been very receptive to culinary influences from abroad. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French food had an effect on traditional Swedish cooking, and today the average Swede dines not only on local pickled herring but also on sushi, kebabs, and falafel. Because of the long Swedish winters, the Swedes structure their year-round diet around dairy products such as yogurt and milk, dark fibrous breads, and fish, fish, fish.
WHAT’S IN IT
Cabbage: Although fresh vegetables can be hard to come by in Sweden’s cold climate, Swedes do eat a lot of winter vegetables such as cabbage. Cucumbers also make frequent appearances at the Swedish table. Preserved vegetables are common, and root vegetables, especially potatoes, are served with most meals.
Dairy Products: Swedes drink a great deal of milk—in fact, only the Finns drink more—and have a high calcium intake. Calcium can help the body switch from a fat-storing to a fat-burning mode, keeping you slim. Both children and adults often have a glass of milk with their meals, making it the standard mealtime beverage for all generations.
Dark Bread: Swedes eat bread often, but they favor dark bread such as rye or pumpernickel, which is much healthier than the refined white bread Americans usually eat. Swedish bread often has added fiber in the form of bran or oats.
Berries: Although fresh fruits are relatively scarce in Sweden, blue-berries and strawberries are all over the menu, bottled in jams and served fresh as dessert. Blueberries have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that are useful in fighting disease and slowing the aging process.
Fish: Much of Sweden is surrounded by water, so it makes sense that Swedes eat lots of heart-healthy oily fish such as salmon and herring.
Beverage of Choice: Coffee
Worldwide, the Swedes are second only to the Finns in their consumption of coffee. They generally drink coffee at breakfast, right after lunch, and again in the late afternoon.
Gravlax, or cured salmon, is eaten on crisp flatbreads throughout the day. Smoked eel, trout, whitefish, and crayfish are also popular staples.
One of my all-time favorite meals in Sweden was lunch at the Avalon Hotel in Göteborg, where the waiter served me a plate of herring prepared five different (and all equally delicious) ways, with a side of high-fiber, low-calorie cabbage. I remember being impressed and not a little astonished that the chef could do so much with such a simple fish.
Potatoes: Because potatoes grow year-round in even the most inhospitable climates, Swedes eat them in great quantities. Lunch and dinner are rarely served without a side dish of potatoes.
HOW THEY PREPARE IT
Curing and Smoking: The Swedes cure fish so that it lasts for many months. Smoking fish helps keep fresh catches tasty longer. Both curing and smoking are great for preserving healthy foods through the winter, when nature might not provide fresh provisions.
Pickling: The Swedes pickle many foods to preserve them through the long winter. Fermented (or pickled) foods contain digestive-system-friendly probiotics.
Boiling: The Swedes boil most vegetables. Although boiling might not be the tastiest way to prepare a food, it gets the job done without adding any fat.
Cooking Oil of Choice: Margarine
Sweden is the only World Diet country where margarine, instead of oil, is frequently used in cooking. Swedes consume much more margarine than butter—almost twice the amount.
HOW THEY EAT IT
They practice lagom.
In Swedish, lagom means “just enough,” a principle often applied at mealtime. Swedes eat until they are satisfied but not full.
They take the tops off their sandwiches.
The traditional Scandinavian way of making a sandwich involves only one piece of bread. The typical open-faced sandwich puts more emphasis on the vegetable and fish fillers and less on the bread.
They prize variety.
Just as Swedes like to eat foods from all over the world, they also like to eat numerous dishes at one meal. The smorgasbord is a Swedish invention, and on holidays Swedes choose from a wide selection of dishes, both hot and cold, served buffet style on a large table.
HOW THEY BURN IT
Year-round physical fitness is a key component of Swedish slimness. Whatever the outdoor temperature (and it is often very cold), Swedes manage to stay fit. They love the great outdoors, even in subzero temperatures. Nordic walking, which began in Finland, has become a craze in Sweden, too. It involves walking with long poles, which helps build core muscles. Every step burns 20 percent more calories than walking without the poles. Almost half of all adult Swedes belong to some sort of sports organization or fitness club. Last but not least, because gasoline is so expensive in Sweden, many people walk or bike to work.
Breakfast: A Swede might begin the day with porridge, fermented milk or yogurt, or some form of pickled fish. A special-occasion breakfast might include lingenberry (Swedish cornberry) pancakes.
Lunch: Swedes often eat a full, cooked lunch perhaps consisting of boiled new potatoes or potato pancakes, pickled herring, and pea soup. They also might have cabbage rolls or a root vegetable soup, especially in winter.
Dinner: For dinner, a Swede might enjoy a hearty meal of traditional Swedish meatballs, or, depending on the season, filling pork-and-potato dumplings or a lighter dish of crayfish.
Snack: Swedes generally have a small snack, such as an open-faced sandwich or a piece of fruit, between meals.
• Go outside and exercise, regardless of the temperature. Make working out a way of life.
• Make the most of your area’s natural resources, even if you live in a cold climate.
• Cut back on the bread content of your sandwiches. Removing the top is an easy way to halve your bread intake.
• Eat until you’ve had just enough, not until you’re stuffed.
• Dairy is good! Stick to low-fat or nonfat versions. If you have a dairy intolerance, try lactose-free products.
1. “World’s Healthiest Countries,” Foreign Policy, October 2007.