Eat Like the French?
To safeguard one’s health at the cost of too strict a diet is a tiresome illness indeed.
Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
French writer and moralist
To say the French know their food is an understatement. Even their children are aware of the gourmand cuisine – they have two-hour multi course lunches in schools and the presentation and preparation of the food becomes a normal part of their education.
A lot of attention was paid to the French way of eating due to what became known as the “French Paradox”. Consider these facts:
The French diet is high in saturated fat compared to the American diet. The good cholesterol (HDL) and high blood pressure rates are about the same as they are in North America; however, the total serum cholesterol levels are higher in the French population. Their smoking rates are relatively high which is a risk factor for heart disease.
So, all things considered, the French should have a lot more heart attacks than the U.S. population with our obsession with cholesterol and smoking cessation efforts. But quite the opposite is true. Compared with North Americans, the French are far less likely to die of heart disease with reports of death rates that are among the lowest in the world – second only to Japan. Also their rates of colon and prostate cancers are roughly 30 and 60 percent lower, respectively, than those in the U.S. That’s the paradox!!
Another part of the puzzle is that the French are leaner. In 2010, their obesity rate was 17% whereas in America in 2015 it is close to 39.8% and counting. The French are reported to live longer on average – French men by about a year and French women by two and one-half years. Is it genetics? Probably not much – when the French move to Montreal and begin to consume a more Western diet, they get “fatter” and their heart disease rates begin to resemble that of North America.
The Traditional French Diet At A Glance: Surprisingly Simple in Form with no tricks or gimmicks
- Moderate drinking – one to two drink a day defined.
- Lots of fruits and vegetables (35 to 38 percent of total calories) or on average four or more servings of vegetables a day.
- No snacking or dieting – this is astounding! Compare to the typical American with our vast snack aisles in the supermarket and our obsession with diets (fad and otherwise).
Source: 30 Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Cuisines, Steven Jonas, MD and Sandra Gordon
How do they stay so slender?
Their food is nutrient dense. They emphasize quality over quantity.
Eating is mindful at each meal. They pay close attention to the type of foods they eat.
They don’t eat in a hurry or when stressed or in front of the TV.
They see food as a ritual with accompanying wine, family or friends, laughter and reverence of the food quality.
They enjoy market trips and understand where their food comes from. They favor seasonal, local foods.
“Sinfully delicious” is a ridiculous oxymoron in French culture. They eat without guilt.
They adhere to traditional dietary guidelines and eat a wide variety of foods. The children eat what is given them. Most French parents would never give their children the option of a hot dog instead of eating “grownup foods.”
The French don’t count pounds or calories or step on the scale each morning. Instead they are mindful of how their clothes fit – using the “zipper syndrome” or a tape measure. When clothes feel tight – they will simply cut back on high caloric dense foods or have a lighter dinner.
They are aware that yo-yo and crash dieting ruins their metabolism since the body senses a period of starvation and then burns calories more slowly to conserve energy.
They don’t eat “fake” foods – they stick to butter instead of using canola oil sprays, e.g.
They appreciate the art of cooking (remember Julia Child?)
We think we know a lot about nutrition science, but we may sadly be kidding ourselves. We can learn a lot from other cultures and their traditional ways as exemplified by the French experience and the following known the Roseto Effect.
“A remarkable discovery by physician Stewart Wolf found a strikingly low incidence of heart disease and deaths from heart attacks, spanning three generations, in a small Italian immigrant community in Roseto, Pennsylvania and was reported in the early 1990s.
It was a astonishing discovery that it wasn’t their diet that was protecting their heart health. To the contrary, Rosetons embraced westernized foods and cooking, at the expense of their Italian-Mediterranean culinary roots. For example, they:
- Shunned olive oil, and used lard instead, as the main fat for cooking.
- Dipped their bread in a lard-based gravy, rather than olive oil.
- Ate an Italian ham, including its one-inch rim of fat.
- The average Roseton diet was high in fat, containing 41% of calories from fat.
The distinguishing protector of their heart health and longevity was found to be social cohesion and social support.
—once again as with the French, effect of positive emotional experiences can have a greater impact on health than which foods people actually eat.”
Source: Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. Page 201.
My opinion: We find this same phenomenon in the study of the Blue Zones cultures where lifestyle patterns appear to affect the longevity and health of these populations. We need to rethink how we diet and learn to maintain our weight losses. From my experiences, it may be prudent to begin to seriously investigate the role that mindfulness and intuitive eating has on our food intake and body weight maintenance.