On "Healthy Eating Day" on 7 March: Interview with Prof. Dr Anette Buyken

 |  SustainabilityStudiesPress releaseSciencesInstitut für Ernährung, Konsum und GesundheitPublic Health Nutrition

Interview with Prof Dr Anette Buyken from Paderborn University on "Healthy Eating Day"

On 7 March, the Association for Nutrition and Dietetics is once again organising the nationwide "Healthy Eating Day". In this interview, nutritionist Prof Dr Anette Buyken talks about the opportunities, challenges and requirements of a healthy diet. Buyken heads the "Public Health Nutrition" working group at the Institute for Nutrition, Consumption and Health at Paderborn University. She is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Agricultural Policy, Nutrition and Consumer Health Protection at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and part of the scientific committee for the development of the Nutri-Score.

Mrs Buyken, what dietary patterns can be used to reduce the risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease?

Buyken: Research in recent years has shown very impressively that a traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of these diseases. Interestingly, this also applies to the so-called "Nordic diet", i.e. a diet rich in local vegetables (cabbage and root vegetables), mushrooms, berries, wholemeal cereals such as oats, barley and rye, pulses and nuts. The advantage of this dietary pattern is that it also fulfils the desire of many consumers to eat a climate-friendly diet.

What measures need to be taken to encourage people to eat this way?

Buyken: Up to now, we have often focussed primarily on the education of the individual. But we considerably overestimate the ability of individuals and families to practise healthy eating in everyday life. In fact, the nutrition strategy just published by the German government also states that our nutritional environments are often designed in such a way that it is only possible to eat healthily and sustainably with great effort.

What can and must politics do to make it easier for everyone to eat well and healthily?

Buyken: Politics can make our nutritional environment fairer. The Citizens' Council set up by the Bundestag, made up of 160 citizens from all walks of life, has also just made very detailed recommendations for measures that the federal government could take: In addition to implementing a free lunch for all children in daycare centres and schools, they also recommend nutritional value, environmental and animal welfare labels as well as a tax exemption for healthy and sustainable food.

As part of the scientific committee, you were involved in optimising the Nutri-Score algorithm. In your opinion, what are the most important changes that came into force at the beginning of the year?

Buyken: The Nutri-Score is now even more closely aligned with the latest scientific findings and nutritional recommendations in the countries that use the Nutri-Score. It now makes it even easier to distinguish between wholemeal-rich products and white flour products, and products with favourable vegetable oils (rich in unsaturated fats) or fatty fish will achieve better scores in future. Low-sugar variants also score better. On the other hand, the use of sweeteners is rated less favourably so as not to create an incentive to use sweeteners.

Where is the Nutri-Score still in need of optimisation?

Buyken: The Nutri-Score is based on the so-called "Big Seven", i.e. the nutrients whose labelling is required by law: energy, fat, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt. Fibre can also be indicated for cereal products with a higher fibre content. For better differentiation of wholemeal products, mandatory labelling of the wholemeal content would be helpful. We could also better differentiate foods to which sugar has been added from foods that naturally have a high sugar content (such as dairy products or products containing fruit) if manufacturers had to label not only the total sugar but also the added sugar.

Global nutrition is currently being affected more than ever by climate damage such as droughts, floods and the associated crop failures. Conversely, can a healthy diet also contribute to climate protection?

Buyken: In fact, the contribution of food to greenhouse gas emissions along the value chain from farm to fork is also considerable in Germany. The most important contribution to reducing our footprint in this respect can be made by consuming red meat in very moderate amounts. To achieve this, it would make sense to reduce our current consumption to around 300 grams per week and to consume a maximum of one third of this as red meat from beef, pork and lamb. Reducing food waste and packaging waste are also important levers, while prioritising the consumption of regionally produced food strengthens the regional economy in particular.

Since the 2017/18 winter semester, Paderborn University has offered a Master's degree programme in "Teaching at grammar schools and comprehensive schools with nutrition as a subject", which trains future teachers to raise pupils' awareness of the opportunities offered by a healthy diet. What role do teachers play in getting children and young people interested in healthy eating?

Buyken: The subject can promote action skills by enabling pupils to reflect on their lifestyle not only at the level of the individual in the private household, but also to consider the nutritional environment and the integration of the household into society. At an individual level, this subject can encourage pupils to take a closer look at the opportunities that a healthier diet offers for mental health. Science shows that a healthy diet can also improve cognitive performance and prevent depression. Implementing a healthy diet therefore presents us with challenges in everyday life, but can also help us to cope with everyday life.

This text has been translated automatically.

Foto (Universität Paderborn, Besim Mazhiqi): Prof. Dr. Anette Buyken vom Institut für Ernährung, Konsum und Gesundheit an der Universität Paderborn.