Herring for lunch increases ‘good cholesterol’

The secret of Swedish health could be on the way to being discovered. A new experiment shows eating pickled herrings for lunch five days a week can increase levels of 'good cholesterol'.

Five Volvo workers in Gothenburg were asked to eat herring for lunch five days a week. Tests show that the amount of high density lipoproteins (HDL), or good cholesterol, rose as a result.

“A lot of the fish that is caught today goes towards making fishmeal,” said doctoral student Helen Lindqvist at Chalmers University of Technology, which carried out the study.

“That is a huge waste when many other species are overfished.”

Lindqvist said she had conducted the study, the first into the health effects of herring, because fatty fish contain omega 3 fatty acids.

“We have measured blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels and inflammation markers on blood vessel walls of the people in the trial before and after the six week period,” she said.

The same people were then asked to eat various meat dishes for lunch for a further six week period, in order that the results could be compared.

“This is not an enormous study, so it should be taken with a pinch of salt, but we could see that levels of good cholesterol rose when people ate herring,” Lindqvist said.

Other researchers have previously studied the effects of fish-liver oil capsules, which are seen to protect against cardiovascular disease.

“The interesting thing with this experiment was to see what happened when the people in the trial ate the whole fish. We could measure a significant rise in omega 3 levels.”

No negative effects of the herring diet were noted. Lindqvist said that the fishing industry had not given financial backing to the study, although she had worked with the industry to get and industrial reference. The costs were covered with EU money through the Swedish Board of Fisheries, and by the Västra Götaland region.

All the participants in the study were slightly overweight men between 35 and 60.

The herring was prepared by top chef Leif Mannerström. The experiment appeared to have startling effects on the participants.

“There were always new tastes,” said Svenning Svenningsson, a worker at Volvo Cars.

“After the trial period I have drastically reduced my meat consumption,” he added.

Photo on previous page: Pål Allan / Copyright: Swedish Institute / Source:

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.