What is the French paradox? This refers to the peculiar phenomenon of relatively low rate of obesity and heart disease among the French compared to other Western nationalities despite the former’s high intake of saturated fat. The French diet is composed of wine, butter, pastries, cheese and cream, all of which contribute to weight gain. Even so, only seven percent of French adults suffer from obesity. Not only that, it's also noted that French people who come to the United States gain weight while Americans who go to France drop significant pounds. What’s the reason behind this? Here are the probable reasons why.
As many experts agree, this is the key component of the French paradox. The French have the habit of drinking a glass or two of red wine with their meals. Red wine is rich in the antioxidants called flavonoids that promote good health for the heart and blood vessels. The flavonoids come from grapes, which is why red wine is healthier for the heart compared to beer, white wine and other alcoholic beverages. Moderate consumption of red wine can help prevent coronary heart disease, produce anticlotting action, inhibit development and progression of atherosclerosis and reduce risk of kidney stone formation. On top of all these, red wine also reduces the harmful effect of smoking cigarettes on endothelium.
Another notable difference between American and French dietary habits is the way they take in their foods. French take their time to savor and taste every piece of food that they put into their mouths. Since it takes the brain 15 to 20 minutes before it starts signalling the feeling of fullness, you can feel full more easily even though you just ate a little amount of food. Americans, on the other hand, are known for their fast-paced eating. They rush to eat big chunks of food while engaging in another activity like talking on the phone, watching television, reading books or newspapers and using the computer. At McDonald’s, French customers spent 22 minutes on the table while Americans were done only after 14 minutes.
Let’s not forget that compared to the humongous portions of Americans, French portion sizes are miniscule. For the French, they don’t have to eat a lot of the food that they like. That’s why even though their diet is very rich in butter, cream, cheese and dressing, they still end up consuming fewer calories. Take this an example: a standard yogurt size in France is about 4.5 ounces, while in America it’s eight ouces. It’s not just yogurt. Visit the local grocery store and see how everything is sized. Now go to a French grocery or restaurant and take note how smaller items are.
Fruits and Veggies
French also eat more fruits and vegetables than Americans. Fruits and vegetables, as you know, contain fiber and vitamins. Even though they’re consuming a lot of fat, high consumption of these healthy items make them at less risk of coronary heart disease than Americans.
Quality Over Quantity
While Americans love the idea of getting the biggest bang for their buck, the French prefer their meals to be smaller but tastier and more delicately prepared. They are more conscious about their food selections. They also don’t consume as much processed foods as Americans. Processed foods are packed with saturated fats, sugar, sodium, trans fat and preservatives. This is also the reason why open-air markets are popular in France. People usually buy their produce there. It’s more expensive and time-consuming but the benefits of fresher and better quality food offset that.
Water Versus Soda
The drinks also matter. The French drink more water than soda. In fact, an average French adult consumes only 37.2 liters of soda annually, which is nothing compared to the 216 liter yearly consumption of an American. Water intake is very low in the US at 46.8 liters per person every year. A French adult takes in 146.6 liters of water annually.
No to Sedentary Lifestyle
It’s not just what they eat but also what they do. French don’t like to exercise in the gym but they are still more physically active than Americans because they walk a lot. Some people believe that this is due to the high costs of gasoline and public transport in France. People save money by walking around.
Now you know why the French are in tiptop shape. It’s up to you to be inspired by their lifestyle and follow it for better health.