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Fat Vikings?

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Reykjavik, Iceland–The 2008 meltdown of the Icelandic banking system contributed to an historic reduction of the nation’s assets, but has not extended to the country’s waistline, according to Benedikta Jonsdottir, the country’s most well-known nutritionist.

“Iceland has been getting fat,” she told BiteDigest. “And it is for the same reasons that America is fat, we are just 40 years behind.”

Jonsdottir, a principle in a chain of Icelandic health food stores, points to the increasing industrialization of Iceland—specifically its capital, Reykjavik, where more than 60% of the country’s 350,000 residents live.

On a recent tour through the capital with BiteDigest, Jonsdottir pointed to the exurbing of the city that has occurred in the last 20 years, with new box-like glass and concrete office buildings sprouting, radiating in all directions from Reykjavik. Its effect, according to Jonssdottir, has been predictable.

“Lack of exercise and a more sedentary lifestyle,” she said. Indeed, Icelanders now drive cars in per-capita numbers rivaling the United States, but Jonsdottir also blames the obesity spike in sugar and sweetener consumption—underlined by a strange law forbidding the natural sweetener Stevia into the country. When I asked Jonsdottir the reasoning behind the ban, she replied simply, in broken English, “Stupid.”

Powdered fructose, sugar from natural fruits, sells well among the Icelanders that do take their health seriously, “but that is only about 10-15% of the people,” she said.

“Aspartame and MSG are also not supposed to be allowed into the country,” she said, “but somehow it is allowed.”

A call to the Icelandic Ministry of Health was not returned.

Jonsdottir pointed out that among the small population of health-conscious Icelanders, most believe that Aspartame is a major player in the obesity increase, as well as a spike in type 2 diabetes. Anecdotally, Bite Digest did see more of an incidence of Icelandic obesity—most of it in health food stores—compared to our last trip in 2001.

When the Vikings first settled the island more than 1,000 years ago, they lived off lamb, fish, seal, whale, and birds. One early delicacy was the Great Auk, a huge 15-pound flightless bird hunted to extinction by 1848. Today, although Icelanders’ consumption of tomato and cucumber rank among the highest in the world, as those crops are among the few that are farmed in-country, the Icelandic landscape is dotted with KFC and hamburger joints, Pepsi Max and Cola signs; a favorite cuisine is the hot dog, slathered with ketchup, mustard and an injurious amount of mayo, available at several kiosks throughout the city and into the wee hours on weekends.

Jonsdottir ventured that few Vikings suffered from obesity, with the possible exception of a chieftain named Olvir the Hump.

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Written by Brian O'Connor

June 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Posted in sugar

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