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Finns eating more meat and sodium, despite nutrition recommendations

Research shows that Finnish residents cherry-pick the dietary guidelines they heed, as, for example, more Finns are eating meat products and salt despite calls from health authorities to cut back.

Nainen kantaa kauppakoria ruokakaupassa.
Image: Irene Stachon / Lehtikuva

More and more Finns are eating meat on a daily basis, according to new survey results from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. Residents of the country are also eating added vegetables, but nutritional experts say they should be eating even more.

Sitra commissioned a survey in April 2017 that asked 2,000 Finnish residents about their attitudes and behaviour with regard to sustainable consumption. Although the respondents were largely aware of the environmental impact of their food choices, the poll found that just one in three made efforts to minimize the global footprint of their diet. 

A Thursday article in the leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat says blood pressure readings are also starting to go up again after years of decline. National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) researcher Antti Jula says it is because hidden sodium consumption is on the rise.

Both of the studies indicate that Finns aren't heeding the prevailing dietary advice.

Half a kilo of fruit and vegetables a day

Like most western countries, Finland has a team of nutrition and medical experts that draws up national nutrition recommendations for the country. These guidelines change periodically, and the last revamp in Finland was in 2014.

At this time, the components of the familiar food triangle were slightly changed and Finns were encouraged to eat less meat and sodium.

"Half a kilo of vegetables, berries and fruit should be consumed a day, instead of the 400 grams earlier recommended. Consumption of red meats (beef, pork and lamb) and especially that of processed meats and low-fibre food containing a lot of saturated fats, added sugar and salt should be reduced," the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira wrote upon the new recommendation's release.

More people are eating chicken and turkey

A THL study from 2012 suggested that Finns still eat an unhealthy amount of meat, and the use of salt was on the rise. Evira warns that such a diet poses a higher risk of cardiac and pulmonary diseases, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers.

Overall meat consumption in Finland is up. Preliminary data from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) indicates that Finns ate close to 80 kilos of meat per person in 2015, exceeding the previous record year of 2011.

Beef and pork consumption was up by 0.5 percent, but poultry consumption accounts for most of the rise, accounting for 1.5 kilograms per capita of growth. Of the three major meat groups, Finns eat the most pork: on average 35 kilograms annually.

Major gender differences

On other hand, the number of Finns who say they don't eat meat is also on the rise. THL researcher Susanna Raulio says that this apparent inconsistency can be explained by increasingly polarised dietary habits.

"The gender gap is huge. The recommendation says half a kilo of meat a week is sufficient. Over 70 percent of women meet this goal, but the percentage for men is much lower," she says.

Raulio says that even though Finns are eating more fruits and vegetables every day, it is still not enough.

"Only 20 percent of women and even fewer men currently meet the dietary recommendation of 500 grams of fruits and vegetables daily," she says.

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