I have written about Mediterranean superfoods and the huge benefits of this mostly plant-based diet which also includes small amounts of extra-virgin olive oil as the most common fat and plenty of seafood, whole grains, modest amounts of lean meats and chicken. In fact, according to Bloomberg, the healthiest countries in Europe (and in fact most of the world) are Italy, Spain, Greece, Iceland and Switzerland.
The first three are, of course, Mediterranean countries, but who’d have thought that the Icelandic population would be fueled by superfoods? Then there’s the French food paradox: French cuisine features lots of delicious bread, butter, cheese, pâté and rich sauces, yet the French have low rates of heart disease and obesity. The key to the French diet is they enjoy rich foods in moderation. A restaurant in Paris typically serves a whole plate of food that weighs 9.7 oz. while an average American restaurant in a city like Philadelphia will serve a 12.2 oz. portion. Plus, the French famously walk or bike everywhere.
Scandinavia is one of the top producers of age-defying European superfoods that help keep the denizens of the Continent healthy, active and living longer. Here are some of the best anti-agers to add to your menu:
Berries, etc. – For Scandinavians (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland) whose countries are near the Arctic Circle, fruit in season means berries of all kinds.
Blueberries – In Sweden they’re known as billberries and are different from the ones grown in the U.S. Our familiar blueberries have green pulp, but the pulp of billberries is red or purple. Billberries are also more tart than North American blueberries. Blueberries/billberries contain antioxidants that are packed with flavonoids and anthocyanins. It’s the anthocyanins that give them their blue color. Billberries/blueberries are also good sources of vitamins C, E, B6 and minerals copper, chromium, manganese, zinc and iron. Fun fact: 17% of Sweden is covered with European billberries, so the superfood is easy pickings.
Haskap berries – These are common in Scandinavian countries and are now being cultivated on a wider basis in Canada. They look like an elongated blueberry, but are higher in antioxidants. The flavor is supposed to be a combination of raspberry, wild blueberry undertone, and then a burst of honeycrisp apple. Condiments, jam, pie filling and even wine is made from Haskap berries. You can order fresh Haskap berries from High Mountain Farm in British Columbia or wait a little while—they are almost certain to be available in a Whole Foods or other specialty supermarket near you soon. You heard it here first!
Raspberries – Their intense red color also indicates that raspberries contain a good supply of antioxidants. Like other berries, they are also high in vitamins, fiber, potassium and calcium. Oil extracted from raspberry seeds has a natural UV and UVB protection when applied to the skin. The leaves can be used to make a tea that is reputed to help women in labor.
Lingonberries – If you ever stopped for a lunch or dinner break while shopping at an IKEA furniture store, you’ve probably had lingonberries. It’s a traditional Scandinavian berry that is used for making jams, juice, syrup and to accompany meats, like we do with cranberries here. Lingonberries are high in vitamin C, vitamin A, B vitamins and minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Sea buckthorn – The name may be a bit misleading, but this berry contains 60 different antioxidants and almost 20 minerals, making them superfood superstars. The pulp and the kernel oil are rich in healthful fatty acids. Used also in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries, sea buckhorn provides protein building amino acids, vitamins B1, B2, K, C, A, E, and folic acid. It’s used in herbal teas and in pies and is handy for treating inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea and even acne. You can buy the powder or capsules from Amazon or order fresh or frozen sea buckthorn
Rose hips – Rose hips are extremely high in Vitamin C, with 60 times that of an orange, which is really beneficial if you live in Northern Europe far from the orange and lemon groves of more temperate locales. They also contain immunity-boosting antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids and catechins. The Swedes make soups, jellies and tea from rose hips. Buy them online from specialty organic suppliers or from Amazon.
Beets – Beets are having a moment. Once found mostly canned and scorned as ‘old people food’, fresh beets have made it into hip new recipes. Beets and particularly beetroot-juice products are trending as potential ways to improve athletic performance and treat chronic disease. Beets are packed with very high concentrations of antioxidants, carotenoids, folate, fiber, iron, manganese, potassium and Vitamin C. Betacyanin, which gives beets their dark red color, is known to help fight cancer. Try my recipe for Detox Juice . The natural nitrates in the beets help moderate blood pressure.
WARM BEET SALAD WITH HAZELNUTS AND GORGONZOLA
8 fresh beets
1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil
1-1/2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
1 shallot, chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
6 cups fresh arugula or baby spinach
3 Tbs. crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
3 Tbs. chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts), toasted
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Scrub and peel the beets. Cut into wedges, toss with the 1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil until thoroughly coated and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until tender, turning occasionally.
For the dressing, in a small saucepan, heat orange juice over medium heat until just boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until liquid is syrupy and reduced to about 1/3 cup. Remove from heat. Whisk in next seven ingredients. Set aside to cool.
To serve, place arugula in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1/4 cup dressing; toss to coat. Divide mixture among six salad plates. Place beets in the same bowl; add remaining dressing and toss well. Arrange on plates. Sprinkle salads with Gorgonzola and hazelnuts. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Oily fish – Mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies are all high in omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein. Mackerel is in the same family as bonito and tuna, but does not contain the levels of mercury that these other fish sometimes contain. Eating herring not only provides plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, but also vitamin D and other Some of the health benefits associated with herring include protection against metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes. Sardines are a good source of vitamin B-12 as well as calcium. Finally, don’t hold back on the anchovies! They provide healthy amounts of potassium, iron, phosphorus, protein and B vitamins and like mackerel, sardines and anchovies are lower in contaminants such as mercury than their big-boned relatives.
You can always buy sardines in cans, but try my recipe for Homemade Sardines. The sweet pickle juice adds a nice complexity.
Fermented milk products – There are two nutrient-packed kinds of typical Nordic-style yogurt. Skyr is an Icelandic version comparable to Greek yogurt. It’s packed with protein, healthy fats and in its plain version, it’s low in sugar. Icelanders add berries, granola, nuts and stone fruit to skyr for breakfast. To keep their spirits up during the long winters, they also sometimes add cod liver oil, which provides vitamin D and is a mood booster. In Sweden they eat filmjölk, a fermented milk product similar to yogurt but drinkable and more tart. It’s a great source of calcium, vitamins and healthy bacteria for your gut. The Swedes will pour it on lingonberries and walnuts for a power-packed breakfast. If you have a Whole Foods near you, you can find both skyr and filmjölk. The brand is Siggis and both are delicious.