Taste the World: Iceland

cold icelandIceland is known to be ‘The Land of Extremes,’ located in the North Atlantic Ocean close to the Arctic Circle. It is a magical place where the sun only comes out for 4 hours in the winter season and never sets in the summer. It is known to be one of the most peaceful countries with a top measurement in quality of life according to The Global Peace Index (Visions of Humanity, 2016). Iceland’s culture is tightly bonded with a strong sense of religion, tradition, and unity with nature. There is no doubt that the people of Iceland are one with their land. Iceland’s three main natural resources are fisheries, renewable energy, and water. Due to their exceptional and unique diet, health conditions in Iceland are outstanding with life expectancy in the 80’s and low infant mortality.

Iceland’s Plate and Dietary Guidelines

Icenland PlateIcelandic people love to keep it simple! They incorporate many fresh foods into meals including seafood (cod, salmon), lean meats (lamb, pelican), and grass fed cattle products (yogurts, cheese).

 

Iceland uses a Myplate similar to the U.S.; they call it the Food Circle. It consists of 6 food groups:

  1. Fruits & Veggies
  2. Cereal Products
  3. Dairy
  4. Animal Sources
  5. Nuts
  6. Oils & Fats

 

Water is found in the center of the circle. Icelanders believe in the health benefits of water therapy. They utilize their natural hot springs (Blue Lagoon), fresh tap water without the chemicals, and increasingly growing market of pure bottled water.  The area around the Food Circle emphasizes the importance of physical activity.

Shots of oil

Iceland’s Dietary Guidelines recommendations:

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables daily (500 g a day, at least 200 g vegetables and 200 g fruit).
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Eat wholegrain bread and fiber-rich foods.
  • Prefer low-fat dairy products with as little sugar as possible.
  • Use oil instead of butter and margarine.
  • Use salt in moderation.
  • Take cod liver oil or other vitamin D supplements.
  • Water is the best drink.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat in moderation.
  • Be physically active every day.

(Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2016)

No Sun No Problem!

Imagine waking up to a midnight sky and never actually seeing the sun! When asking a hotel receptionist about how the Icelandic people cope with no sun they reply, “Well, we never really get used to it” (McGovern et al., 2016). With no sun, Iceland has decreased access to the recommended intake of Vitamin D, which can lead to deficiencies and other health problems.

What is vitamin D? Vitamin D is a multifunctional fat-soluble vitamin. It works to keep the body’s bones, brain, and immune system strong. Vitamin D can be created in the body when sunlight touches the skin, it can also be consumed from other food sources such as:

  • Fatty fish – cod, salmon, trout, tuna
  • Fortified milk, cereal, and juice
  • Egg yolk
  • Beef liver
  • Fish and olive oil

Iceland consumes fish products almost 3 times a day. This high intake of fish allows them to receive high levels of iron, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, and protein. In the winter months, when sunlight is scarce, it is common to find Icelandic people taking shot glasses of olive oil.

These shots will help Icelanders get all the vitamin D they will need throughout the day, but it is certain knowing their culture they will be eating some sort of fish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Fish, fish, and more fish!

 

About the Author

FullSizeRender

Sigourney McGovern is a senior at James Madison University (JMU) with a major in Dietetics. During her freshman year in college she attended Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) pursuing a Psychology major. After a year at VCU she discovered her love for nutrition and human anatomy. In 2014 she transferred out of VCU to JMU where she pursued her passion for Dietetics. This will be her third year dancing as a Dukette, the official dance team at JMU. This dance team is currently ranked 1st in the Nation for the second year in a row. Sigourney has also traveled to over 20 countries around the world, which has allowed her to learn about new cultures and their day-to-day nutrition. Upon graduation, her goal is to obtain a dietetic internship and fulfill her interests in women’s health and infant nutrition.

My Culinary Experience in Iceland

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In 2015 at the end of December, I traveled all the way from my hometown of Stafford, VA to the absolutely stunning city of Reykjavik, Iceland. In this last short segment I want to share a couple of memorable experiences, pictures, and interesting nutrition related events I encountered on my New Years visit.

 

There is without a doubt that Iceland is one of the most extreme and magical places I have ever been privileged to visit. The views were beautiful, the people were kindhearted, and my goodness the food was AMAZING!

Sigourney in Iceland

On our way to the hotel from the airport (semi jet lagged) my father asked the true Icelandic cab driver, “What kind of fast-food restaurants do you guys have here?” He smiled replied, “Fast food was banned back in 2009. Although we only had few the government decided it was not only bad for us and made us fat, but it was too expensive to maintain.” To my surprise I did some research upon my return to discover that in 2009 Iceland had a financial crisis and closed down all three of their McDonalds branches along with 7-11 and Starbucks. It turns out it was too expensive to import fast food goods. That’s not such a bad thing; after all why import fattening Big Macs when Iceland can harvest their own food and save a couple thousands of dollars. It was delightful to hear that on this trip I would be encountering true traditional food.

“Fast food was banned back in 2009.”

One of the local dishes I ate in Reykjavík was at a café called Fish and More. It was very small with only one woman running the whole café! Looking closer at the menu it lists:

  • Fish of the dayDining in Iceland
  • Fish stew (fishpie)
  • Salmon
  • Salmon Pesto
  • Fish Soup
  • Sub with Salmon
  • Slice of cake
  • Juice

It is safe to say if you didn’t like fish then Iceland wasn’t going to be your favorite place to eat. To the left is a picture of what my sister’s plate looked like. From a dietitian’s perspective it is a very balanced plate consisting of a protein (salmon), starch (brown rice), and vegetables (broccoli, radish, and sweet potato). This meal is very nutrient dense and high in iron, vitamin D and C, omega 3, folate, and fiber.

 

Iceland cuisine

After a 7-day visit my family and I were pretty fished out, but it was great to try new foods and witness the true beauty of mother nature. It is important to study other cultures and discover how their diets reflect their lifestyles. I can’t wait to go back to Iceland when I can actually see the sun!

 

 

 

 

About the Author:  

FullSizeRender Sigourney McGovern

Sigourney McGovern is a senior at James Madison University (JMU) with a major in Dietetics. During her freshman year in college she attended Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) pursuing a Psychology major. After a year at VCU she discovered her love for nutrition and human anatomy. In 2014 she transferred out of VCU to JMU where she pursued her passion for Dietetics. This will be her third year dancing as a Dukette, the official dance team at JMU. This dance team is currently ranked 1st in the Nation for the second year in a row. Sigourney has also traveled to over 20 countries around the world, which has allowed her to learn about new cultures and their day-to-day nutrition. Upon graduation, her goal is to obtain a dietetic internship and fulfill her interests in women’s health and infant nutrition.