What do we know about Finland?

Other than the fact that their national sport is ski jumping and their national beverage is vodka, that is.

Well, did you know?

  • That Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union — only 6 people per square mile?
  • That the Scandinavian country holds a couple of major geography records? Minnesota might be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Finland has 187,888 lakes. Not to mention 179,584 islands — both world records.
  • That Finnish athletes have won more Summer Olympic medals per capita than any country in the world? Despite a population of only 5.4 million, Finland has won 302 Olympic medals (including 101 gold).
  • That the country hasn’t even celebrated its centennial? Finland only became independent in 1918.

Now here’s a fact likely to sound far more familiar to Americans: According to Finland’s National Nutritional Council, the protein intake of Finns (allegedly) exceeds dietary guidelines. Red meat, the council claims, is consumed considerably more than what health authorities recommend, according to a report in the Helsinki Times.

So what is the council recommending? Get this: according its latest dietary revisions, fewer than three meals a week with red meat.

Uh, “fewer than three” is either two or one.

That means that the National Nutritional Council is suggesting that out of a total of some 21 meals a week, only one or two should contain red meat. And you can guess what the guidelines propose as substitutes: legumes and tofu.

“Children’s intake of vegetables is rather modest as well as narrow,” Arja Lyytikäinen, the National Nutritional Council secretary general, told the newspaper. “Increasing the number of warm vegetable meals would be an improvement. Beans, soy and tofu are examples of ingredients that would make children’s diet more diverse and healthy.”

Um, aren’t “beans, soy and tofu” basically the same food group? I thought the goal was to make Finnish diets more diverse.

The data don’t lie

Advocating only one or two meals a week with red meat, while encouraging people to load up on beans, soy and tofu — for “diversity” — is bad enough. But here’s the real irony of such misguided advice: Finland is among the healthiest countries on Earth.

I mean, consider these data, which are traditionally used to measure a country’s overall health status:

  • Life expectancy in Finland is 80.7years on average, according to the World Health Organization. That ranks them fourth in the world behind Japan, Iceland and Switzerland.
  • Infant mortality is only 2.3 deaths per 1,000 births (fifth lowest in the world), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, versus 6.1 per 1,000 in the United States.
  • Their national obesity rate among adults is only 15.8%, less than one-half of CDC’s comparable estimates for U.S. adults.

Not only that, but according to a 2007 UNICEF survey, Finland had the highest level of academic achievements of all surveyed countries for reading, mathematics and sciences. According to a World Audit study in 2012, the country is the least corrupt and most democratic nation in the world. And the country ranks first among in the world on the Environmental Sustainability Index developed by Yale and Columbia Universities.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like there’s a desperate need to make wholesale changes in any aspect of Finnish lifestyles.

Look, I’m not suggesting I’m ready to move up near the Arctic Circle, thank you. But when a bunch of so-called nutritional experts in any country starts in on fixing dietary choices that aren’t broken, that’s a huge problem.

The Helsinki Times story reported that the new guidelines warn that “an excessive intake of protein appears to be linked with childhood overweight. In addition, it puts a strain on the kidneys and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

That is just pure, unadulterated . . . well, let’s just say it resembles the substance “secreted” from the other end of the cow.

Protein intake is not the cause of obesity, nor does it lead to diabetes. In fact, when a person is diagnosed with type II diabetes, they’re told to cut down on starch and sugar and eat more protein!

So Finland: Don’t listen to the National Nutritional Council. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, because it’s workin’ just fine.  

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator