Bread beats obesity

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Obesity is becoming a worldwide problem with Germany and Austria facing growing problems as statistics show that Germans spend 105 minutes a day eating. Guest writer Dr Andreas Vollmar, head of development at backaldrin, looks into the issue.

When people of normal weight become a minority of the population, it is time to take action, though it is hard to know exactly what to do.

However, it is easy to explain what bread and wholegrain bread can contribute, namely dietary fibre, optimally 30 grams per day.

According to a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study, Germans spend 105 minutes a day eating.

The country ranks in the upper mid-range in an international comparison.

In contrast, the French take 135 minutes each day to eat, whereas Mexicans and Canadians only a good hour.

In terms of nutrition physiology, experts have their doubts as to whether the food which is served has much value.

A closer look at current nutrition reports for Austrian and Germany concludes that the body mass index of people in both countries is usually beyond the level of 25.

“The increase in obesity and adiposity for men and women of all age groups is very worrisome”, says Ibrahim Elmadfa, Professor at the Institute of Nutritional Sciences of the University of Vienna and publisher of the study, summarizing the results for Austria.

His German colleague, Helmut Heseker, vice president of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) and professor at the University of Paderbon, agrees.

“Men and women of normal weight in Germany who are over 35 and 55 respectively are now outnumbered by their overweight counterparts.

“The conclusion to be drawn by the increase in the number of adults afflicted with pre-adiposity and adiposity is that these conditions are the inevitable consequences of overnutrition and a lack of exercise”, Heseker explains.

Normal-weight minority

Very small children are already overweight. Almost every fifth pupil in Austria between the ages of 6 and 15 is overweight. In Germany, about 15 per cent of the people in the age group from three to 17 are overweight or obese.

In Austria, 42 per cent of the 18 to 65 year old are overweight, 11 per cent with adiposity.

Germany is even worse off.

The consequences of excess weight on people’s health are well known: cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or diseases of the muscular and skeletal systems.

Having excess weight and being obese are not only risk factors for individuals, but have far-reaching social and economic consequences for the health care system.

The world Health Organisation (WHO) already speaks of a “global adiposity epidemic”.

According to estimates made by the WHO, about 1.6 billion people 15 or older were overweight around the world in the year 2005.

Health is important

Knowing and doing are two completely different things with regards to eating, as we well know from other situations. This has been conclusively shown by a recent study. The market research institute, Dialego, interviewed 1,000 people in Germany in April 2009 concerning the topic of “nutrition” and 71 per cent of the respondents said that healthy nutrition is very important to them but only a third of them rated their own eating habits as healthy.

In economically difficult times, many people are once again attaching greater importance to their health, as another survey concludes, with 85 per cent of 1,000 people taking part in a survy implemented by the Austrian Market Institute in March said they are wondering “what one can do for one´s own health”,

The nutrition reports in Austria and Germany are appearing at just the right time. They show precisely what is being done wrong, and what steps consumers can take to improve their nutrition in line with the slogan “The most important thing is to be healthy”.

Although an increasing number of people are overweight, “the intake of nutritional energy is below the reference values for all population groups”, according to Elmadfa in commenting on the results of the Austrian Nutrition Report.

On average, people do not usually exceed the recommended maximum reference value for their daily energy nedds. This amounts to 2,300 kcal for adult women and 2,900 kcal for adult men.

Actually, this seems to be good news, except for the fact that there are two big “buts”. First, “the reference values apply to people with a medium level of physical activity, which is not reached on average”. To put things bluntly, we do not get enough exercise. And second, we do not attain the right energy mix.

“Too much fat” is the conclusion of nutritional experts. The amount of fat consumed everyday by children is quite close to the upper limit but still acceptable. However, other people consume too much fat, which now accounts for more than 35 per cent of our total energy requirements.

According to DGE and the Austrian Nutrition Society (ÖGE), this figure should not exceed 25 – 30 per cent. Unsaturated fats are preferred. Here there is still a lot of catching up to do.

“The ideal thing would be to reduce the consumption of fat while using more high quality vegetables oils”, Elmada says in commenting on what people should do. “Being overweight is the body’s reaction to a chronically positive energy balance”, Heseker adds.

Dietary fibre hope

Experts recommend that proteins comprise 10-15 per cent of the total nutritional energy consumed by people.

“On average, this figure was achieved if not surpassed by all age groups”, Elmadfa states.

“The high intake of fat and protein is to the detriment of carbohydrates, which do not supply the recommended 55 per cent of total energy of any age group. From today’s perspecrive, people should from foods rich in starch and dietary fiber, such as grains, grain products, if possible wholegrain, as well as vegetables, fruit, legumes and potatoes, according to DGE.

“Although people are eating greater quantities of bread, they are only consuming about 120 grams per day, significantly below the recommended level of 200-300 grams daily”, the researcher says.

“In particularly, the share of wholegrain products in the group of the most important suppliers of nutrients and dietary fibres is still much too low, at only 16 grams per day”.

In Germany, the changed eating habits have also supposedly led to the reduced intake of polysaccharides and dietary fibre. Germans are eating more and more grain products, but fewer foodstuffs made of rye and potatoes. Elmadfa and Heseker agree and dietary fibers are being consumed.

Full-spedd ahead with wholegrain products

Baking products as suitable suppliers of dietary fibre are more in demand than ever before, naturally wholegrain products in particular. Two hundred 300 grams daily are recommended, or the equivalent of four-six slices, ÖGE and DGE agree.

Wholegrain products should be consumed everyday as they are rich in vitamins and minerals, but also on account of their dietary fibre, which is now recognized today as an important part of healthy nutrition. Dietary fibres ensure orderly digestion and a “good feeling in one’s stomach”.

“The Kornspitz, Europe’s top brand name roll, is an especially valuable food, boasting 7 per cent dietary fibre. The Kornspitz and its richness in B vitamins, minerals and trace elements, enjoyed 4.5 million times a day, ranks among Austria’s most successful brand-name organic products”, says backaldrin, Austria’s leading producer of baking products.

Moreover, increasing the consumption of dietary fibres, i.e. the recommended amount of 30 grams/day, “probably” reduces the risk of tumours of the large intestine and rectal tumours, as DGE´s German Nutrition Report concludes.

“The word “probably” refers to the close connection between nutritional factors and the risk of cancer, and should be used as a reference point for people to reorient their own eating habits”.

A simple recipe for health could be to “eat more bread”.

Exploit consumer goodwill

A recent study on the topic of “bread and health” has shown that there is a broad-based consensus among consumers that bread in general and wholegrain bread in particular are good suppliers of dietary fiber.

In the aforementioned Dialego survey, 80 per cent of those interviewed say wholegrain products help to ensure a healthy and balanced diet.

CMA Market Research concluded that wholegrain bread now comprises 28 per cent of the bread named by consumers, which puts this group at the top of the “bread hit list”.

Close to half the respondents say that health reasons are relevant for their choice of bread.

A whole range of measures is required to sustainably change eating habits and get the problems of excess weight and adiposity under control.

“Nutritional experts around the world agree that becoming overweight can only be prevented by a balanced, volume-rich and low calorie diet, as well as sufficient physical exercise,” the DGE Nutrition Report adds, pointing out the direction we have to go in.