A quick guide to Sweden

Ah, Sweden! The cozy little Northern country with Polar Bears roaming the streets, IKEA furnitures, Smorgasboards and lushious blonds working at Volvo! Well, that’s what we think that you think of us… The truth is that we’re a small nation with only 9,4 million citizens. We’re pretty healthy and happy, if you look at the statistics in comparison to other Western countries. But since the last 30 or so years we’ve been getting unhealthier and fatter, dispite our authorities best efforts and despite our trust in them, which have made us follow their dietary recommendations.

In Sweden we have a national food administration called “Livsmedelsverket”. They make recommendations about what healthy Swedes should eat, and are supposed to keep updated with the latest science and research. Unfortunately they are stuck in the beleives that saturated fat is bad, and continue to insist that you need to eat a low fat diet. These beleives are sprung from theories imported mainly from the USA and have their roots in Ancel Keys old lies.

In 1992 Livsmedelsverket launched “the Plate Model” concept (“Tallriksmodellen” in Swedish), which is still taught to Swedish school children. The idea is that you should divide your plate into three parts; one for vegetables, fruits and berries, another for starchy foods as grainproducts and potatoes, and the third smaller part for meats, fish, eggs, dairy products and fats. A concept simple enough for every child to remember, right? Well yes, most health conscious Swedes automatically fill their plates according to this, and wouldn’t dream of skipping the compulsory bread, potatoes, pasta or rice.

However, if a Swede should forget this whilst shopping for food, Livsmedelsverket have established a label called “The Keyhole symbol” (“Nyckelhålsmärket” in Swedish, it was introduced 1989). Foods labelled with the this symbol contain “less fat, sugars and salt and more fibre than food products of the same type not carrying the symbol”. Sounds good, right? Well, if you for example concider cereals containing 13% sugar to be healthy, go right ahead and reach for the packet with the Keyhole on it!

This image describing the Plate Model is from Livsmedelsverkets pamphlet, but translated to English by me:

We also have a national board of health and welfare called “Socialstyrelsen”. They have the assignment of making recommendations about what to eat if you’re not healthy, for example if you are diabetic or obese. One could think that Socialstyrelsen and Livsmedelsverket would share ideas regarding what foods are healthy, but that’s not always the case.

One of Swedens most prominent LCHF proponents is doctor Annika Dahlqvist. She was one of the first MDs to openly recommend her patients to eat LCHF foods to loose weight and/or get control of their diabetes. Two dieticians got upset when they heard of dr Dahlqvists recommendations, as they where clearly against what Livsmedelsverket recommends, and reported her to Socialstyrelsen in 2005. Surely they thought that dr Dahlqvist would be scared and stop giving her “unhealthy” advice, or that Socialstyrelsen would reprimend her into stopping.

But surprise, suprise! Socialstyrelsen found in 2008 that dr Dahlqvists recommendations to her patients were consistent with science and proven experience. By then dr Dahlqvist had already left her job as practitioner because her employer wanted to force her to change her recommendations, and she wouldn’t. She’s now back to work at another practice, after a couple of years spent on lecturing on LCHF and writing books.

Socialstyrelsen haven’t recognized LCHF as a healthy diet for all Swedes, merely the diabetic and only if they choose it themselves. Somehow Socialstyrelsen find both low-fat-high-carb and low-carb-high-fat to be healthy, but they are currently looking over their recommendations for the obese and it will be interesting to see what the results will be.

Dispite what Livsmedelsverket say, many Swedes have started to eat less carbs and stopped being afraid of natural fats. The consumption of eggs, butter and whole-fat milk have risen over the last years, and a public opinion pull in March 2011 claimed that 23% of the Swedish population are now eating LCHF!

I’m personally not at all surprised that this survey found that LCHF is popular among the elderly. I once asked my grandmother what her trick was to make everything she cooked and baked taste so good, and her answer was: “Butter. Lot’s of real butter!”. The older generations haven’t been taught since pre-school that fat is dangerous. They’ve seen their parents and grand-parents eating fat without becoming obese or sick, so it should only feel natural for them to return to what they used to eat before the Plate Model was introduced.

And we Swedes sure do have a strong movement of people who’ve chosen to fight against the old diet dogmas. A few make a living out of it, but most of us are just driven on a pure and non-profitable desire to share our new knowledge. There’s about a ton of Swedish blogs sharing advice, articles and recipies.

Unfortunately I only know of two who blog about it in English, and one is the MD Andreas Eenfeldt – the Diet Doctor – who you’ll probably be reading a lot about in this blog, as Swedish media often consult him when writing about LCHF. He has also made a very good page for LCHF beginners.

At the Swedish forum Kolhydrater iFokus you’ll never have to wait more than ten minutes to get a reply if you have questions regarding LCHF. Swedish media has picked up the scent, and for some time now there hasn’t been a week without LCHF getting attention on TV or in newspapers. Of course the same magazine can write about LCHF on one page and have Weight Watcher recipies on the next, but then again not all Swedes are ready to change their lifestyles. Not just yet anyway…

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