Czech nutrition is improving, but more time needs to be spent on education, says nutritionist

A new study from the FOOD Barometer survey commissioned by the Czech Chamber of Commerce sheds light on how Czechs eat on a daily basis. The study revealed that Czechs are much less guided by the nutritional value of foods, and that while awareness of the importance of healthy eating is improving – the country still drags behind the European average, and Czechs often wait to change their diet only upon advice from medical experts. To discuss the results, I spoke with Prague based nutritionist, Valerija Gerfanova.

There’s a famous Czech expression about eating habits and nutrition in the country: breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a peasant. What do you think of this saying?

“From the perspective of a nutritionist, the underlying concept here emphasizes the importance of fuelling the body when it’s most active, and reducing consumption when it’s less so. But it’s crucial to note that individual needs vary from person to person – some people might thrive on a heavy breakfast, while others do not feel hungry early in the day. In this case, it should be really personalized and dependent on each person’s lifestyle, on the work or type of work each person does. Some people may not need to eat three times a day always.”

This study also points to affordability as a barrier for Czechs to purchase nutritious food. Have you seen this in your practice?

“Yes, in many parts of the world and including the Czech Republic, there is a genuine concern that healthier foods are more expensive than processed or fast foods. For many people it’s a huge barrier to choosing nutritious foods. The word ‘bio’ or organic does not mean healthier food. We should look at the amount of nutrients in each food, and in my practice the complex issues like agriculture policy, socio-economic factors, access to fresh food markets, all of these are related to people’s consumption of quality, nutritious foods. It’s not about the price, it’s about people’s knowledge of quality, healthy foods.”

Talking specifically about Czechia here, if Czechs want to improve their dietary habits, what are some of the ways they can do this that aren’t too expensive or complicated?

“To get nutritious and high quality food is not expensive at all. The most expensive part of our lives is our lifestyle – we are always in a hurry, we don’t like to cook at home and bring our lunch to work the next day. We typically go to fast foods or restaurants – which are really not healthy in their food production. I can advise to use the principle of seasonal and local eating, like buying fruits and vegetables that are in season. It can be cheaper to do this than buying mangoes in winter.

Illustrative photo: kaboompics,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“Local markets or farmers’ markets can also offer fresher produce and higher quality products, and usually their price is lower than in supermarkets. In the city of Prague, there are a lot of local farmers’ markets in each Prague district, so people can have access to more high quality foods. When we talk about the nutrition part of quality foods, I would advise to use more whole grains instead of processed grains. Whole grains include oats, barley, and brown rice – they can be both economical and nutritious. People will be fuller for longer periods of time.

“You can also add legumes to your meal plan – things like beans, lentils, and chickpeas. They are all excellent sources of protein, and they are not expensive at all. The final thing I would recommend is to plan your food preparation, you can have a weekly meal plan, and this will help you optimize your time on grocery shopping. You should also invest time into understanding nutrition, so you can learn how to make better food choices for yourself.”