An interview with Dr Margareta Büning-Fesel and Cornelia Poletto
Dr Margareta Büning-Fesel and Cornelia Poletto talk about nutritional trends, how we deal with food and consumer guidance.
You've invited friends for a meal. One of your guests is vegan, another doesn't eat products containing gluten, a third is following the Paleo diet. Has nutrition become more complicated?
Poletto: I really do think so. As a restaurateur, I know there are a lot of food intolerances and allergies out there, but also food trends. People are free to follow trends, but it can become a problem, if their diet is then no longer balanced as a result...
Büning-Fesel: ... and if they cut out certain foods based on uncertainty. This can lead to health issues. But trends can be positive too, because people consciously think about what they are eating.
Is there a sure-fire recipe for healthy eating among all of these trends?
Büning-Fesel: If trends get people to eat more plant-based foods, then this is very positive. This tallies with the fundamental rules of healthy eating, as shown in the familiar food pyramid: we should be eating plenty of plant-based foods, animal products in moderation and heavily processed foods only very sparingly.
Poletto: As a chef, I would add that the enjoyment of food shouldn't be forgotten. For me, a balanced nutrition is about being allowed to reach for a chocolate bar today - as long as you substitute it with some fresh fruit tomorrow.
Another trend that can be observed is that people in Germany are cooking less and less. Are we forgetting what to do with food?
Poletto: I always say that anyone who enjoys eating can learn to cook. The consumption of cold dishes is increasing, meals are sometimes replaced by a latte macchiato to go. Sunday roasts are very rare these days because the recipes are no longer being passed on from one generation to the next.
Büning-Fesel: Unfortunately it's also rare these days for people to cook as a family. But that's exactly how you learn- by watching your parents and helping them to cook. The increasing trend among young people of coming together to cook does make me feel more optimistic, though.
Anyone who enjoys eating can learn to cook.Cornelia Poletto
How can nutritional skills be strengthened once again?
Büning-Fesel: Our experience with the Nutritional Licence has been good - kids prepare fresh food in class together and take their learnings home. It's important that we consider the entire school day: what are the school meals like, are the schoolchildren getting enough exercise? We need the topics of nutrition, health and consumption to be embedded in the school structure in the long term - this can be achieved by incorporating them into various school subjects.
Poletto: It's no longer a matter of course for children to learn what healthy eating is all about at home, so schools have an important role to play here. I have come to the conclusion that it works best when teachers, parents and schoolchildren all jointly assume responsibility ...
Büning-Fesel: ... but it should be professionals who provide the long-term catering services.
A different topic: do you sometimes rely on ready-made meals?
Poletto: There would be something quite wrong if I were to buy ready meals as a chef. There are plenty of meals that can be made quickly - I can make a delicious sauce while my spaghetti is cooking, be it something tomato-based or a good-quality olive oil with garlic and pepperoncini. It's quicker and cheaper to cook something yourself than to buy a ready meal.
Büning-Fesel: If I'm in a hurry, I do occasionally make use of frozen mixed vegetables, and add some fresh vegetables. But we have a problem with overweight here in Germany. This is partly due to a lack of exercise and also to the excessive consumption of convenience foods, which are high in fat, and also sweetened drinks. It is therefore right that sugar, fat and salt be reduced in these products, as is the plan with the national reduction strategy. General rules that everyone can stick to would be good here.
There should be greater cross-ministerial cooperation in the area of nutrition.Dr. Margareta Büning-Fesel
Nutrition labelling has been mandatory since 2016. Do consumers need other information to be shown on foods?
Büning-Fesel: Many consumers would appreciate greater guidance. There needs to be a discussion as to whether we should adopt a traffic light system or some other form of labelling. In Denmark, for example, they use a keyhole symbol to positively highlight food which is fresh and unprocessed. The most important thing is that we ask consumers what they think would be helpful.
Poletto: What's needed is information and education. Good food needs to be made a given once again. We shouldn't always think in terms of rules and traffic lights. Eating healthy with pleasure and enjoyment should be the objective.
What should the new government focus on in terms of its nutrition policies?
Büning-Fesel: I am delighted that, according to the coalition agreement, In Form, the national initiative to promote healthy diets and physical activity, is to be continued, with the focus being placed in particular on a child's first 1,000 days. I would like to see a lot more cross-ministerial cooperation in the area of nutrition.
Poletto: In Form is a good idea, because it also considers the nutritional needs of senior citizens. I, too, think it's important that nutrition be made a school subject, ideally involving a blend of theory and practice.