Calorie information: From the tug of war over the menuWho has put on a few kilos, often pays more attention to the calories. To help people stay in control in restaurants, many chains in England now have to print this information on their menus.
The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) is examining whether it is possible and sensible to include calorie information on menus in Germany. Michael Kappeler/dpa
Berlin – If you go to a restaurant, you want to be pampered – or simply get your fill quickly. But do guests want to think about the calorie content when choosing fish, meat or pasta?
Do they feel like studying energy values on the menu and decide against calorie bombs? In England, the government believes that calorie information on the card will help in the fight against rampant obesity. Since April larger chains must show these numbers in the menu there. In Germany there is not this obligation. But Berlin is testing whether it makes sense. The opponents of the calorie lists in the restaurant protest already in the apron.
Nutrition is much more complex
The pure calorie counting is dismissed by scientists and Wissenschaftlerinnen as method for the promotion of the healthy nutrition already "for decades as Humbug", warns for instance the Sarah Viennese (59), admits as cook become. "I have the feeling, with such proposals it is still done as if humans were Otto engines: fuel in, energy out. Nutrition, however, is much more complex," says the entrepreneur and Austrian Green member of the European Parliament.
"The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) is currently examining whether a mandatory declaration of calories in out-of-home catering is possible and sensible," a spokeswoman for the ministry explains, referring to the British model. The legal feasibility of this would have to be examined, as would the practical aspects for consumers and companies. "An assessment can therefore not yet be made at this time."
Calorie information mandatory for retailers
Unlike in pubs, the obligations for retailers are already in place in Germany: Prepackaged food is labeled with calorie information in stores. Whether it's chips, cottage cheese or jam, the nutritional information is usually printed in small letters on the product. This obligation is part of the Food Information Regulation of the European Union (EU).
The consumers are to have thereby the chance to select consciously. This, in turn, should help to reduce overweight, obesity and other diseases such as diabetes in society. This argument played also in England with new menu rule a role. In Germany, experts classify about two-thirds of men. Half of the women as overweight one. At the same time, calorie information in restaurants has so far been voluntary – and rare. Some chains, for example, list them on their websites. Consumers can use it to find out what they need to know before they go to the store: A "Big Mac" from McDonald's has around 500 kilocalories, as you can read there.
In a Block House restaurant, a "Mr. Rumpsteak" without side dishes therefore to about 350 kilocalories. For adults, a highly simplified requirement of around 2000 kilocalories per day is the rule.
"We have been providing our guests with the allergens and nutritional values of Block House dishes for a good ten years now," reports Markus Gutendorff, CEO of Block House Restaurantbetriebe AG, about the Internet info. "In fact, in the block-house restaurants, we hardly have any inquiries about the energy and nutritional values of our dishes." Whereby a spokeswoman explains that the websites of the steakhouse chain from Hamburg are well used.
Voluntary net information is one thing – a legal obligation to energy values on cards would be the wrong way in the view of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga). "Dehoga is clearly against the mandatory indication of calories on menus in domestic restaurants," clarifies Ingrid Hartges, chief executive of the federal association. "The new law is controversial in the UK – and not without reason."
Counting calories is not enough
For them, the concept is not a suitable means in the fight against obesity. "The sole counting of calories does not replace a balanced healthy nutrition and movement", leads Hartges out. She refers to experiences in the retail trade: "It is known that customers in the supermarket reach for foods that have particularly high calories despite the information provided." In addition the federation leads the additional work for restaurants: In our industry it goes around benefit.
Imagine the bureaucratic burden on establishments, with offerings that sometimes change daily, that would have to calculate the calories for each ingredient in each dish's respective quantity."
Antje Gahl, spokeswoman for the German Nutrition Society in Bonn, argues similarly: "In our view, calorie information on menus is not the focus when it comes to healthy eating." Counting energy levels could be important when severely overweight people need to specifically reduce calories as part of therapy.
But in everyday life, even when going to a restaurant, a much broader understanding of eating something healthy counts: It's about enjoyment, taste, quality, freshness, variety, balance, pleasure in eating in a pleasant atmosphere, he said.
In selected areas, cooking with the calorie table was feasible – but not everywhere. "For this would always have to be cooked exactly according to exact recipes." In smaller restaurants and upscale eateries, the creativity of the chef could suffer, says the nutritionist. "He can then not refine his recipes according to feeling, for example with cream or a shot of alcohol, because then the calorie content changes."
How caloric information is obtained
Which calorific value has an apple? If you research this on the Internet, you will get a precise answer: 52 kilocalories per 100 grams of. Chocolate bar? 556 kilocalories per 100 grams. But how do such values arise?
Basically, the energy content of food can be determined with a special procedure – so-called bomb calorimeters are used for this purpose. These are containers with a burner-. Of a surrounding water chamber. In them, the food to be tested is burned completely and under excess oxygen prere. The so-called physical calorific value can be derived from the temperature increase of water.
However, the nutritional value table on food packaging lists the so-called physiological calorific value rather than the physical value. Because unlike in the laboratory, not every substance can be completely burned in the human body. However, since the physiological values for fat, protein and carbohydrates, for example, are known, the physiological calorific value of foods – depending on their composition – can be calculated. Here's how experts believe most calorie claims on foods are made these days.
"As a rule, calorie data are average values that can only serve as a rough guide," said nutritionist Esther Schnur of the German Nutrition Society (DGE). The actual value of an apple, for example, can be subject to natural fluctuations and influenced by various factors, such as the nutrient content of the soil in which the apple tree was grown or the type of apple. Or whether the fruit grew on the north or south side of the tree. Calorie information would be even more difficult with variable recipes, for example in restaurants.