Germans Don′t Do Low-Carb | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.08.2004
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Germans Don't Do Low-Carb

While the latest diet craze makes its way through the US, Germans continue chomping down on bread and potatoes. Low-carb products have had difficulty making their way into the mainstream, largely due to German culture.


Germans love their potatoes

More bread and pommes frites please, we're German. While their counterparts across the Atlantic may prefer to skip the breakfast rolls, the side order of pasta and the extra helping of potatoes, diners in Germany say bring it on.

Americans may be busy counting up calories, scanning the aisles in the grocery store for low-carb cereals and exchanging the latest menu suggestions in the Atkins diet books, but Germans are largely unphased by the phenomena.

Despite their penchant for sausages and heavy meat dishes, the Atkins Diet, which favors protein over carbohydrates, is having a hard time winning German converts.

"The Atkins Diet craze that has gripped America will not result in Germans eating more sausage and less potatoes," Dr. Volker Pudel, director of nutrition psychology at the University of Göttingen, told AP newsagency.

Doesn't work in Germany

Part of the reason for the low interest in the US diet fad lies in Germans' traditional eating habits. Carbohydrates are an integral factor in nearly all meals. "Just think about German breakfast," said Pudel, "you cannot just have eggs without the bread, and you cannot eat butter without spreading it on bread."

"It just won't work in Germany," he added.

A look in the Atkins Diet Bulletin Board Forum reveals just how difficult it is for followers of low-carb eating to find the products in German grocery stores. With requests for tips on which foods contain low level carbohydrates and where to obtain special Atkins bars and pills to counteract unintentionally consumed carbs, the group of adherents is relatively small -- a niche market.

Their concerns illustrate the fact that the diet is not nearly as accepted as in the United States. Many forum entries focus on the fact that food labels in Germany do not give the amount of contained carbohydrates or that when dinning out their are no low-carb dishes on the menu.

The Association of Independent Health Advisors (UGB) has been following the US trend and watching as it comes to Germany. In its August journal, the organization stressed that while the number of Atkins dieters remains fairly low in Germany and products are not available in the majority of grocery stores, many of the adherents buy their food over the Internet. The UGB refers to the low-carb dieters as a small minority.

Low acceptance level

Another reason the Atkins way of life, as it's often called, has not caught on in Germany owes to the low acceptance level. Whereas the diet has several big-name celebrities praising it in the United States, few prominent Germans have touted its benefits.

Instead, the diet is more often depicted as unhealthy. Stiftung Warentest, a consumer testing group which examines, among other things, the effectiveness and safety of diets, said recently of Atkins: "This extremely one-sided and health-damaging diet cannot be recommended for even short-term weight loss."

Verdict still out

Diet experts and nutrition researchers have also criticized the simultaneous emphasis on low-carbs and high protein intake as being insufficiently proven to lead to long-term weight loss. They have also questioned the health risks involved with consuming too much fat and cholesteral as contained in animal proteins.

Until more extensive studies can be done, the German Health Ministry and the Consumer Affairs Ministry caution people not to try the Atkins diet.

TalkingFood, an EU initiative to increase nutritional awareness in Germany, also says the verdict is still out on the benefits of the Atkins diet. Although it generally recommends reducing overall caloric intact by reducing carbohydrates and fats to a moderate level, it encourages increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, two elements not favored by Atkins.

Germany's Consumer Affairs Ministry, which has become alarmed by the growing level of obesity in the population, especially among children, is launching the Platform for Nutrition and Exercise in September. On its Web site, the ministry clearly states, the best way to shed unwanted pounds is by eating well-balanced portions and exercising regularly.

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