The 50 most important research questions for the Netherlands
How can we go towards a healthier diet?
The first question that we need to ask, says Klaas Westerterp, professor of Human Energetics, is what is healthy. According to one study, for example, milk is healthy, according to another it is not. “It is not easy. You cannot say that a single foodstuff is healthy. Officially claiming that something is healthy, is prohibited by the relevant authority.” In that respect, Westerterp states, there is little to be said about this question.
What we can say something about, is the energy balance. “It would be healthier for a lot of people if they ate less. People eat too much. That is the problem of today's society.” The next question is: how much is too much? “There are no guidelines. It varies per person; everyone has a different body composition. What we do have, is a formula for calculating your energy usage when at rest.” This figure can be multiplied by a number that represents your activity and this gives you your daily energy requirements.
As to the composition of the daily diet, Westerterp is brief. “Ideally it should not contain more than 30 to 35 per cent fat, 10 to 15 per cent protein and the remainder should be carbohydrates. If you have a varied diet, you get enough vitamins and minerals. Simply eating the traditional food that we are used to in The Netherlands is fine.”
It sounds simple, but it is not for a lot of people. “We are inclined to eat too quickly and too much. This stems from the days when we had natural enemies; when you are eating, you are vulnerable. You can eat all you need for a whole day in half an hour, so it is very easy to eat too much. Food is always at hand. In fact, it is a miracle that there are not more people who are overweight.”
There is also an enormous amount of attention for food in newspapers and on television. “It is excessive. It provides more choice, which leads to overeating.” Soft drinks are one of the main culprits and people eating out more and more does not help either. “The increase in the intake of soft drinks goes hand in hand with the increase of obesity. The disadvantage of eating out is that you do not know exactly what is in your food, because you did not prepare it yourself. It often contains too much fat and it is too rich in carbohydrates, because people like that and so it sells, while it contains too few vegetables.”
His advice is to cook more often. “People do not take the time for it, but actually the time you invest is minimal. Everyone can make a meal. You don’t even need to always cook vegetables. It need not be a problem at all.”
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has listed the 50 most important research questions for the Netherlands. The 50th is the result of a competition, which was won by two UM researchers.