Good news rarely follows the devastation caused by World War. Lost lives, jobs and the familiarity of everyday reality is upended affecting every aspect of life. Food and water, the basic factors that sustain life, are no less affected as well. However, in the country of Norway, positive health effects did come out of World War II.

Every country has a unique cuisine that reflects the available food supply and often those tastes may be peculiar to others. Some traditional Norwegian dishes include farikal, pickled herring, sheep’s head, brown cheese and smoked salmon.

The second World War changed that for the people of Norway. Once the country was occupied by the Germans, all of the livestock that provided meat, butter, milk and cheese was confiscated to feed the German army. The first food casualties were sugar, coffee and flour, followed by all imported foods and eventually, bread and provisions from livestock.

This left Norwegians little of their cultural cuisine, requiring them to live off the land. They were given one ration book per family member to buy certain food items. In order to combat the lack of food, they returned to fishing, hunting, and farming. Potatoes, Swedish turnips and carrots became staples in garden patches, even flower beds were turned into potato fields. Because there was no wheat to harvest, root vegetables such as turnips and other edibles were dried and ground into flour.  

Here is the interesting part. Before the war, deaths from heart disease and stroke were rising at an alarming rate. During the occupation from 1940 to 1945, there was a precipitous drop in cardiovascular events as published in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals. Norwegians were more active, lived off the land and consumed significantly more plant-based foods. Unfortunately, as the war ended and animal products became more available, heart disease returned to pre-war levels.   

Thankfully, a more recent trend has been to focus on prevention programs, smoking reduction and better care for the population. Young people have also been a driving force toward a plant -based diet with many vegan and vegetarian restaurants opening. 

On a personal note, I am certain that being a vegetarian/vegan for the last 45 years has allowed me to remain vertical, disease free and working with no thought of retirement. As long as I can get into the pool at 5:30 in the morning, ride my bike as I did when I was six and plan for the future, I have won.

There is no question that my 80-year-old body is sending messages indicating that the party will not go on forever, but for now, I will treasure and be grateful for every pain-free, active, working moment possible. 

Betty McDonald is a licensed acupuncturist and functional medicine practitioner. She is founder of The Wellness Place and welcomes questions at (760) 766.6223. For more information visit

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