The French paradox
Did you ever hear about the French paradox? In 1987, Ducimetiere and his team coined the term “the French Paradox” to refer to the fact that the French have among the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world despite having among the highest intakes of saturated fat. Many authors have proposed various hypotheses to explain the French paradox. The main assumptions that have been explored relate to the lifestyle of the French, in particular, their drinking and dietary habits.
Since the consumption of alcohol, in particular wine, is high in France compared with most Western countries, it has been proposed that their drinking habits may protect the French against cardiovascular diseases (thanks to resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant which is found most abundantly in grapes and, therefore, red wine). However, other dietary aspects are probably important in the French paradox. A recent assumption was that the French may be protected simply by their dietary habits, in the same way as the other South European populations. The answers may lie in the overall quality of the diet rather than in a single food or beverage.
For French, it’s all about moderation
The French diet falls under the definition of a Mediterranean diet which consists largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil, with limited amounts of lean protein from fish and poultry. The French approach to food is to eat all types of food, slowly, conversing while eating, drinking wine with dinner and never without food.
70% of the French drink less than 1 glass of sweetened beverage per day, compared to 37% of Americans, source
A recent study showed that the French spent twice as much time eating than the Americans. In addition, it was reported that the percentage of the French adult population with a high dietary diversity score is remarkably high as compared with a similar US population (90% against 33%). French women had the highest dietary diversity score. The French approach to food is to eat all types of food: there is no restriction but it’s all about moderation. French usually never engage in low-calorie diets featuring restriction of various types of food, and, when the restriction becomes too difficult, going in the opposite direction and eating too much.
The emphasis is on whole foods
The freshness of the foods, the seasonal use and minimum processing of food are other particularities described for the Mediterranean diet. The real secret of the French diet is that French still eat whole foods. Not fat-free cheese, yogurt or sugar-free ice cream or chocolates. The thing is you feel more satiated when you eat that way, and you probably eat less. French women also have no guilt when it comes to eating: they never constantly counting calories, fat content and carbs, so they will never be left feeling unsatisfied.
44% of the French consume at least 5 serving of fruits and vegetables a day compared to 24% of Americans
It’s easier to eat slowly when your meal actually tastes good, so the French diet shuns processed foods in favor of anything fresh and real. Breakfast is small: bread with butter or jam, cereal, or yogurt with fruit, and coffee. Lunch and dinner include small portions of meat, vegetables, and some type of starch, with a piece of cheese or coffee to finish off the meal. Foods that are a staple of the French diet include full-fat cheese and yogurt, butter, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, small portions of meat, wine, and dark chocolate.
French think quality, not quantity
French chooses quality over quantity wherever their budget allows. They always demand high quality from every one of their ingredients: opting for a square of fine dark chocolate over a massive bowl of mediocre ice cream for example. The French love their food but not the way American love food. In America, enjoyment of food means over-consumption whereas in France it means to savor the finer foods and flavors. French religiously visit their local farmers market (twice a week), asking farmers which ingredients are best and what is new. Each meal is freshly baked with the foods from the local farmer bought the day before and truly elevates every single flavor. And this is maybe how French diet will never leave you feeling unsatisfied: less quantity, more quality.
French shop at local food markets
Anyone who has lived in France understands the centrality of the neighborhood market in determining French consumption patterns. Refrigerators in French households are small and food storage is uncommon. Instead, the daily ritual is to go to the market at the end of the day to find ingredients for the evening meal from an array of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and cheese. Traditional French culture promotes interest in food—all the way from planning, shopping, and preparing for eating together. Seasonal foods are a huge part of French cuisine, and natives tend to base their meals around whatever local produce happens to be available at their local market—doing so allows them to not only avoid additives and hormones but also better enjoy the food that’s currently available. They know by buying seasonal foods from local markets they will have the best quality food.
French stay fit simply by living their daily lives
French women move around regularly, using stairs, bikes, and public transportation. Americans are more likely to begin exercise programs with high intensity and high-frequency regimens, which are often unsustainable and lead to failure and revision to sedentary habits. This same cross-cultural comparison showed that the French spend 1.69% of their time walking vs. 0.63% for the Americans.
About 65% of French walk briskly 7 days/week, only about 50% of Americans walk briskly 5 days/week
Forget slaving away at the gym. French people stay fit simply by living their daily lives, which seldom involve hours spent stuck in traffic. Instead, they walk or bike where they need to go. And they walk because they enjoy it, not because it’s something they have to do to stay fit. An American study found that people who exercised to lose weight or tone up spent about 40% less time exercising than those who exercised for reasons beyond dropping pounds. So do what you love whether it’s walking, tennis, dancing, or biking, instead of slaving away at the gym!