The French Paradox and Fitness

Written by Erica Paredes

It's rare that the words "French cuisine" and "healthy" are found in the same sentence, but why is it that even as the French seem to eat nothing but butter, bread, and macarons, the percentage of obesity and heart disease is significantly low, specially when compared to the statistics of the United States?

It's called the "French Paradox" and to this day, it may still baffle the world how they seem to consume carbohydrates, saturated fat, and sugar with abandon; and still remain, not only relatively slim, but also internally healthy.

Perhaps it's not so much the food they eat, but more of the quality and the quantity. First of all, American servings are roughly about 25% more than the average serving at a restaurant in France. This does not only apply to sit-down restaurants, but also to fast food chains whose servings are about 30% more in America than in their French counterparts. A medium portion of french fries at McDonald's is almost twice as big in the US as in France, and a large soda is about 15 grams more. This trend continues onto the prepared food section in the supermarket, where American portions are, again, about 25% larger than French portions. It seems clear that it's not the fact that you want to eat steak and potatoes everyday, but more a matter of how much steak and potatoes you are consuming per meal. Nutritionists recommend a deck of cards sized amount for meat and poultry equivalent to 3-4 oz., or 3 oz., or a chocolate bar sized piece of fish and medium-sized potato, or one the size of a computer mouse. Take smaller bites, and for goodness sake, take your time! It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to realize you are full, so savor every bite so you don't overeat.

Another reason the French are healthier is because they avoid processed food. In America's fast paced life, late hours and full days rarely give them enough time to whip up a proper dinner at home. For many, microwave dinners and take out may be the only option after a tiring day and with a hungry family waiting at home. On the other hand, French people will push dinner back to as late as 9 pm so they can prepare a proper home-cooked meal. Their diets may be sprinkled with fat, but one must remember that they lean towards the good, healthy dairy-based fat from whole-milk drank straight or eaten through yogurt and cheeses, while the typical American's fat intake is from junk food and sugary drinks such as soda.

Wine and dessert are always present in a French meal, but are served and eaten in moderation. One or two glasses of wine over dinner to relax and unwind from the day is typical of a French person to have. Desserts are usually served in small portions, as are the rest of their courses. A fancy French meal might consist of an appetizer, a fish course, a main, a salad, a cheese plate and then dessert, but all served in portions that are just right. A typical American meal might consist of a big plate of meat and potatoes and a sugar-packed dessert. At the end of each meal, do as the French do and try to walk instead of vegging out in front of the television. A short walk around the block will not only help you digest your meal, but also help burn some of those stubborn calories.


Dr. Jean-Michel Cohen
is the founder of The Parisian Diet, which is about the pleasure of eating and being able to eat all types of food.

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