Lost in the land of milk and honey

Day of healthy food in Germany. Dr. Tatjana Schütz says how the day should be: Rather different for everybody than the same for everyone.

Between wish and reality: the overwhelmed customer

Food has long since surpassed the time when it signified eating and fullfilling the energetic and nutritional requirements, eating has become a philosophy. Most customers have their very own conception of healthy food. But what would be the ideal healthy diet? The data is not conclusive. There are many studies claiming one thing and at least just as many claiming the opposite to be true. This is creating confusion rather than clarity. "The actual problem concerning diet in Germany is that the customer is overwhelmed by the variety of food and the difference in messages concerning diet", says Dr. Tatjana Schütz, nutritionist at the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) AdiposityDiseases Leipzig. So the customer is left alone, lost in the culinary land of milk and honey. An interview on the day of healthy food with Dr. Tatjana Schütz about the rules that apply to everyone and her personal slogan: "Food has to taste good and accommodate the personal life style."

Can you really lump all people together and find the one and only correct diet?

A relatively new direction of nutrition research is dealing with so-called "personalized diet". That means you try to develop custom-made nutrition advise on the basis of individual genetic configuration that are supposed to minimize the risk of getting a diet-related disease. The energetic and nutritional requirementsa does in fact always depend on gender, age, body composition and last but not least the genetic configuration. To this the life situation has to be added. Pregnancy or lactation for example increase the requirements. Also do people who are exercising have higher energy demands than "couch potatoes". Not to be forgotten are diseases that could lead to higher demands for energy and nutrition.

How healthy are the Germans?

That is a question also asked by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Therefore it comissions the German Nutrition Society every four years (2008 the last time) to create a German Nutrition Report. In it they evaluate data from the agricultural statistics among and the eating habits and food intake are investigated. The changes in food consumption can lead to positive as well as negative changes in the nutrient supply. The increased intake of food like cereals, fruits and vegetables that supply many nutrients at once and few energy at the same time can be seen positively. But the intake of fruits and vegetables still lies below the recommended amount of 650 g per day. It is also positive that the Germans consumed less alcohol, eggs, red meat and animal fats, or food that plays a role in the development of diet-corelated diseases. Among the negative changes there is the increase in the sugar consumption, which is also identified as an "empty energy carrier" because it does not contain nutrients apart from energy in the form of carbs. It is also critical that the Germans increasingly eat fried potato products, which are rich in calories and fats. So even though the trends are positive there is still a lot of educational work to do.

Where are the actual problems concerning nutrition in Germany in your opinion?

If we look at the variety of food that we can buy in Germany any season you could think we are living in the land of milk and honey. Milk and honey do not flow in rivers but they are always refilled in the supermarkets. The consumer now now stands in front of this overwhelmed and is supposed to decide which food is healthy for him or her. On the one hand they lack knowledge about adequate diet and on the other hand sometimes the heart wins against the brain and you will choose the tastier rather than the healthier food. This battlefield between wish and reality has to be adressed over and over and solutions need to be offered.

Once upon a time food had to do with nature, nowadays it has to do with industry in the form of finished products. Is that true?

The food industry is offering what the customer wants. Of course it always depends on the individual how they choose to eat. Not everybody has the time to buy food directly from the farmer or at the market and then prepare their mashed potatoes, vegetable soup or pizza themselves. Most of the time you will resort to finished products, so-called "convenience products" because you lack time or know-how. Convenience products are often used in communal feeding, too. Depending on the grade of preparation you differentiate five stages, ranging from stage 1 "kitchen-ready food" to stage 5 "table-ready food" such as finished salads or fruits in cans. But there are also consumers that resist this trend towards convenience products and deliberatly choose natural finished food. An example for that is the slow food movement that puts the culture of eating and drinking in the center of their diet and campaigns for the preservation of the traditional food crafts and regional variety. "I wish that those consumers who spend a lot of money on cars, brand clothes or mobile phones would also pay more attention on the quality of their food," says Ilse Aigner, Federal Minister for Consumer Protection. Which value do we put in our food? This is a question that concerns the Federal Statistical Office, which establishes the average spending for twelve different areas of life on the basis of a representative shopping cart every five years. Compared with 1995 the spendings for food and alcohol-free drinks dropped from 13.1% of the cost of living to 10.4% in 2005 and came in fourth after flat, water, gas, fuels (30.8%), traffic (13.2%) and free time, culture, entertainment (11.6%). I wish that every consumer knew what qualitatively valuable food is and that it would be easier for them to choose this food.

Which eating cultures could be a role-model for us?

A catchword is the "mediterranean cuisine" the food from the countries around the Meditteranean Sea. Those who think only of spaghetti with tomato sauce now, are wrong. Compared to us Northern Europeans the Southern Europeans eat a lot more fruits, vegetables and cereals. They also eat a lot of fish and olive oil. And a glas of red wine can also be part of a meal. Which part of the diet is responsible for the positive effects on the development of cardiovascular and cancer diseases is unknown. But we can assume thet it isn't an isolated "super nutrient" but the mixture of vitamins, fibres, secondary phytochemicals and monounsaturated fatty acids.

What do you personally consider a healthy diet?

A healthy diet has to be tasty and accommodate the personal life style. I agree with Paracelsus: "All things are poinson, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous." Transferred to eating that means that all food is allowed but it all depends on a positive variety and the adequate dose.

Frau Dr. Schütz, the crucial question: How does "the" healthy diet look?

Obviously the data is not comprehensive and there are not only well-done studies, but it becomes clearer which food is rather positive and shich is rather negative for our health. You are on the safe side when you adhere to the following 10 rules of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) for a full-fledged diet:

1. Vary your food
2. A lot of cereals and potato products
3. Vegetables and fruits – Take „5“ a day …
4. Milk and dairy products daily; once or twice a week fish; meat, sausage and eggs modestly.
5. Few fats and food that is rich in fats
6. sugar and salt modestly
7. A lot of fluids
8. Prepare tastily and with consideration
9. Take your time and enjoy
10. Keep your weight in check and exercise

Keywords: nutrition & diets, prevention