Unveiling the latest Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
In the era of sustainability, where more and more people are becoming conscious about how our behaviours impact human and planetary health, the latest edition of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR 2023) provides important advise and support for people and communities.
The NNR 2023 were recently presented by Karen Ellemann, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The latest edition of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations marks a significant development.
400 Nordic and international researchers have spent five years reviewing thousands of studies on foods, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and alcohol. It has been ten years since the last review. Therefore the NNR 2023 are rooted in state of the art research.
The guidelines are rooted in rigorous science and chart a path towards healthier bodies, environments, and a more sustainable world.
Ms. Ellemann spoke to the ambition and purpose of the NNR 2023:
Released in June, this edition contains latest and best scientific findings regarding food, health, and the environment.
Over 400 scientists and experts have collaboratively formulated the NNR 2023. They have set criteria for what constitutes good research and have excluded poor, weak, and small studies.
The dietary guidelines have significant importance in Nordic countries. They have been in place since 1954 and are continuously updated, in line with world class research developments. These guidelines help shape norms of what is considered healthy and they inform school education about food and health in school.
This edition integrates environmental aspects into dietary recommendations, reflecting global commitments and the Nordic Vision for a sustainable region by 2030.
The science behind alcohol: no safe lower limit
One of the key sections of the latest edition of the guidelines is on the impact of alcohol consumption.
The guidelines are clear: there is no safe lower limit for alcohol consumption. They particularly advise children, adolescents, and pregnant women to abstain from alcohol.
Alcohol is not an essential nutrient. Its energy contribution negatively affects diet quality. The NNR 2023 recommends avoiding alcohol intake whenever possible. And if alcohol is consumed, the intake should be very low.
Professor Rune Blomhoff from the University of Oslo led the project. He makes a key point: there’s no safe lower limit for alcohol. In the past, some believed that a small amount of alcohol was good for the heart and blood vessels. But latest research shows that already low-dose alcohol use is bad for the human heart and cardiovascular system.
The new edition of the nutritional recommendations (NNR 2023) builds on the solid foundation from the previous edition, but also includes a number of improvements and extensions. The methods for summarizing research results have been markedly improved.
The Nordic nutritional recommendations project
The method used in the new edition is far more systematic, open and transparent, with a number of control mechanisms, compared to previous editions of the guidelines.
The project has grown considerably in terms of the number of researchers involved, now approaching 400.
Another important difference from previous reports is the integration of sustainability.
Taking a stand on alcohol: implications for health and environment
The clarity of the guidelines on the harm of alcohol for human and planetary health is rooted in rigorous science and a growing body of world class scientific evidence linking low-dose alcohol use to various diseases. Additionally, the guidelines acknowledge alcohol’s contribution to negative environmental impacts. The NNR 2023 suggest dietary choices’ link to broader sustainability goals.
Movendi International reported on the evolving stance on alcohol use in the draft version of the guidelines earlier this year.
Map: How alcohol negatively affects health and environment
Main health effects
Alcohol is a toxic substance that affects all organs of the body. The energy from oxidation of alcohol in the body corresponds to 29 kJ (7 kcal) per gram, with a reduced energy efficiency at high alcohol consumption.
As reviewed in the background paper by Telle and Grønbæk (2023), both acute and chronic alcohol-induced damage contributes significantly to morbidity and mortality. Alcohol consumption has been linked with cancer, with convincing evidence for breast cancer and cancer sites in the gastrointestinal tract. The older population, e.g., above 50 years of age, has a higher cancer risk due to alcohol. Chronic high consumption of alcohol may lead to liver cirrhosis and is associated with increased mortality and lower quality of life.
Consumption of alcoholic beverages contributes to negative environmental impact just as non-alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages have a climate impact associated with the energy and fuel used in manufacturing, transportation and post-use. Alcoholic beverages generated 3 % of the dietary climate impact in a Swedish study. The crops used for alcohol production, barley and wheat, may be associated with low biodiversity if produced in large-scale cropping systems with low diversity.
NNR 2023 Recommendations concerning alcohol
- Based on health outcomes: Alcohol is not an essential nutrient, and from a nutritional point of view, energy contribution from high intake of alcoholic beverages affects diet quality negatively. Based on this and new systematic reviews, and since no threshold for safe level of alcohol consumption has currently been established for human health, the NNR2023 recommends avoiding alcohol intake. If alcohol is consumed, the intake should be very low. For children, adolescents and pregnant women abstinence from alcohol is advised.
- Based on environmental impacts: The consumption of alcoholic beverages contributes to negative environmental impact.
- Overall recommendation: No safe lower limit for alcohol consumption has been established. For children, adolescents and pregnant women abstinence from alcohol is advised.
Explanatory key points:
- Indicator of Recommended Intake: There is no positive health effects from alcohol consumption, regardless of the amount.
- Indicator of Adverse Effect (Connected to “High Intake of Alcohol”): Consuming a lot of alcohol is linked to a higher risk of early death and serious diseases like cancer and liver issues.
- Ethanol in Wine, Liquor, and Beer: Alcohol has a negative impact on the environment. Making, transporting, and disposing of alcohol products use energy, fuel, water, create waste, release greenhouse gases, involve chemicals, affect land use, and harm ecosystems.
The vital role of dietary guidelines in Nordic countries
People ‘s eating patterns are informed by these guidelines. Even the food that’s served at nursing homes, hospitals and nurseries is often based on these guidelines.
The dietary guidelines have had significant importance in Norway. They are something we know we should strive for.”Nina Kristiansen, Journalist
For years, the Nordic nutrition recommendations have been the basis for health policies in the Nordic and Baltic region. They shape what people eat, how food is labeled, and even affect taxes and education.
These guidelines are not just local, they have global recognition. Developed with a strong focus on science and public input, they are part of a global effort to standardize how we create nutritional recommendations and dietary advice.
Integration of sustainability
The new edition of the Nordic Nutritional Recommendations includes an important focus on sustainability. This reflects a wider understanding of the impact of dietary choices on both health and the environment. Additionally, this inclusion is in line with the global trend towards more sustainable diets.
NNR 2023 breaks new ground by incorporating sustainability. It boldly asserts that what’s good for health is, in most cases, also good for the environment and climate. Promoting a diet that balances plant-based foods with moderate animal product consumption is both healthy and environmentally friendly. It adopts the principles of ecological sustainability.
NNR 2023 suggests how much of different foods are suitable to consume. It’s about more than just nutrients. It is about fostering sustainable eating habits.
Application of NNR 2023 in Sweden
In Sweden, the National Food Agency’s current dietary advice, titled “Find your way – to eat greener, just the right amount, and exercise,” is currently based on NNR 2012. However, it will soon get updated aligning it with the latest NNR 2023.
The guidelines will engage the community through following applications:
- Dietary advisors could use the guidelines to create healthy eating plans.
- Healthcare professionals could plan meals for patients.
- Educators incorporate them into school meal plans.
- Eldercare facilities could ensure balanced nutrition for seniors.
- Food labeling criteria, like the Keyhole Label, are influenced by the guidelines.
- The guidelines are tools to assess nutrient intake for groups and populations.
Expectation that Nordic countries follow recommendations
The day after the launch, NNR2023 was presented to the Nordic ministers responsible for agriculture and food policy. Professor Rune Blomhoff, who is the project manager for the new edition NNR, urged the ministers to listen to the scientific advice.
We expect all the Nordic countries to follow the NNR2023 framework and define ambitious quantitative recommendations for the environment and the climate,” said Mr. Blomhoff.Professor Rune Blomhoff
Iceland’s Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries also highlighted the importance of making ambitious decisions for future generations.
NNR2023 should serve as a strong call to action. Our traditional industries must accept the challenge of meeting the expectations of the next generation of consumers, who prioritize the environmental impact of food. We can be brave and we must be,” said Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Iceland’s Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Iceland
Nordic Council of Ministers: “Massivt intresse och mycket debatt när de nya näringsrekommendationerna lanserades” [Translated from Swedish]
Helsedirektoratet: “Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2023 – Helsedirektoratet“
Livsmedelsverket: “Näringsrekommendationer (livsmedelsverket.se)” [Translated from Swedish]
CONTENTS FOR NORDIC NUTRITION RECOMMENDATIONS 2023: Alcohol. “NORDIC NUTRITION RECOMMENDATIONS 2023 (norden.org)“