Status: 23.01.2024 02:52

Many people in Germany are overweight. Nutritionist Andresen explains what a healthy diet looks like and how to break bad habits. What should be on a plate to ensure that the diet is as healthy and balanced as possible?

Viola Andresen: One magic word is always: variety. You should eat as varied a diet as possible and eat lots of vegetables, fiber and little red meat. These are some of the core issues. It is also important to prepare everything yourself, no ready meals. This way you avoid additives and sweeteners and eat little sugar.

Overall, it’s about being aware of your diet. Sugar, for example, isn’t bad in principle, but of course we consume far too much sugar because there’s a lot of sugar hidden in food. One example is sugary drinks. These should really be minimized.

Obesity in Germany: “Dramatic figures” How do you assess the situation in Germany – are we eating well on the whole or not?

Andresen: Unfortunately, the figures suggest that we are not eating well overall. For example, we have a growing obesity problem. Around half of all adult women and almost two thirds of adult men in Germany are overweight. Almost 20 percent of them are even morbidly obese. These are dramatic figures, because this excess weight brings with it serious health problems. What happens in a body when we eat poorly?

Andresen: The biggest problem is so-called belly fat, where many inflammatory substances can accumulate. This means that the body receives many inflammatory signals. This increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, strokes, but also cancer, inflammatory and rheumatological diseases, and type 2 diabetes. All of this is exacerbated by excess weight and can have dramatic consequences.

Viola Andresen

To person

Viola Andresen is a specialist in internal medicine, nutritional medicine and palliative medicine. Since November 2023, she has been head of the abdominal center at the Hamburg Medizinicum. Previously, she held a managerial position at the Ikaneum, the specialist institute for intestinal health and nutrition at the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg. Diseases of the digestive tract and malnutrition are among the main focuses of her work.

The distribution of body fat is crucial

In addition, most people notice in their everyday lives that they are becoming less mobile. They develop joint problems, pain, arthritis, and quickly become out of breath when they have to climb stairs. Is it true that “people who are overweight have a lower life expectancy”?

Andresen: On average, definitely. Statistically speaking, all of these diseases occur more frequently in overweight people. But you have to make a clear distinction: Firstly, how severe the overweight is. And above all, this famous belly fat, the visceral fat, is risky. Women in particular often have a few kilos on their hips – this is not so dangerous for their health. There are two types of bodies: apple and pear. The apple type is the one that is dangerous to health, so to speak, and the pear type is less problematic.

“It’s better to change things slowly and then sustainably” There are different types of diets – do they work?

Andresen: Experience shows that all short-term diets only result in short-term weight loss, and then we get the famous yo-yo effect. The body adjusts to starvation metabolism, and everything we eat afterwards is stored twice as fat deposits. This means that we don’t actually want diets, we want long-term dietary changes. It’s better to change things slowly and then make a sustainable and long-lasting lifestyle change – which isn’t that easy!

For example, there are these famous insulin breaks that you can use. For example, with insulin-based food separation. That would mean that you don’t say “Never again pasta!”, but that you eat pasta for lunch and avoid carbohydrates in the evening. It is also better to reduce sugar consumption in small steps. Experience shows that people can get used to it this way.

Unfortunately, we have been spoiled by the food industry: everything tastes so sweet that you get used to it. But you can also break the habit. And the people who try it soon realise: I don’t like it anymore, it’s far too sweet for me! And they then reduce their sugar consumption in the long term in a very sustainable way.

Insulin breaks are important for fat loss What about intermittent fasting – can it help?

Andresen: All methods that have longer breaks between meals, or especially longer breaks between insulin, are beneficial. Insulin is the messenger substance that forms fat deposits and also keeps fat in the fat deposits as long as insulin levels are high. And these rise after short-acting carbohydrates and sugar. As long as they are high, we cannot break down the fat. And that is why all methods that keep insulin levels down are beneficial. You can do this through intermittent fasting, by simply not eating anything for many hours. Or through something like insulin-based food combining, where you have some meals without insulin being released, for example just eating salad and fish.

Even children should learn about healthy eating In your opinion, what would be important for Germany to eat healthier in the future?

Andresen: One important step would be for children to learn more about healthy eating at school. And I think the food industry should also be more involved in reducing the sugar content of food. And we should start doing that now, because the increase in obesity figures shows that we are moving in the wrong direction.

The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, science editor at tagesschau. It was shortened and edited for the written version.