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French People Don’t Get Fat

You may have heard of the French Paradox.

This is mysterious statistical fact that although French people eat a diet rich in saturated fat, they have relatively low levels of cardiovascular disease, compared to Americans.

Is it the wine that’s protecting them?

Are fatty foods actually bad for us?

Before I get into that, I must first say that I’m not French, even though it is my first language. I’m French Canadian. Big difference in culture and food. However, I have been half a dozen times to France and have spent enough time there, along with French expats in Montreal, to have a good idea.

Why French People Stay Thin

It is true, French people are much slimmer than Americans overall, even in 2014.

And yes, they eat some of the most decadent, fatty foods known to mankind, and they do that on a regular basis.

I’m talking about butter in everything: sauces, croissants, meat… everything contains a ridiculous amount of fat, that would make any nutritionist cringe.

They have hundreds of types of cheese, and they love to talk about them too.

Wine is popular, although much less so, in recent years.

80% of French people eat baguette with every meal.

With all that fattening food, you’d expect the French to be at least fatter than Americans, but the contrary is quite true. Obesity rates are at around 10% here, compared to 33% in the US.

France is the 128th fattest country in the world.

And also rates of heart rate disease (by number of deaths every year) is almost a third of what it is in the US.

Cancer rates are also a little lower, but not dramatically so.

So…. qu’est-ce qu’il se passe!? (What is going on!?)

Some have said that the reason French people stay relatively healthier is that they drink so much wine, and wine somehow protects them and “cleans their arteries”.

However, further research disproved this theory.

What is clear now is that French people stay slimmer and have less heart disease because they eat less in general, and they care more about what they eat.

One of the main factors is QUANTITY.

In French, the word for lunch literally means “breakfast” because it was the first meal of the day.

However, when people started eating a little something in the morning, they called that meal “little breakfast” (petit déjeuner).

The average breakfast in France is still pretty light. Maybe a croissant with some coffee, but many people skip it entirely.

Lunch is a big thing. They take their lunches seriously, often taking 2 hours or more to eat and chat.

Dinner is traditionally simple, and many smart French people eat almost nothing for dinner — maybe some fruit and yogurt. However, it’s becoming popular to have bigger dinners nowadays.

Another important fact: French people rarely eat in between meals. You will rarely see people snacking on the bus, train or metro.

My other theory on the French Paradox is the love of food that people have here.

People still like to shop like in the old days, buying their bread at the boulangerie (baker), their produce at the fruit shop or the market, their meat at the butcher, and so on.

Food is a big topic of conversation, and don’t be surprised if you get caught in a conversation with a French person where they’ll literally spend half an hour to describe their particular method for picking the best wild mushrooms, or making a particular recipe.

Because of this obsession for food, they also tend to care a lot more about food quality, by buying local products they can trust, and even harvesting and growing produce themselves as much as possible.

Also, the SOCIAL aspect of life is extremely important.

People tend to spend more time together. When they eat, it’s not the same rushed experience you would get at a fast-food restaurant.
Taking two hours to enjoy your lunch with your friends will certainly enhance your digestion, as opposed to angrily and quickly eating a burger alone.
In the end, it’s nothing magical that makes French people slimmer and a bit healthier, in spite of all that fattening food.
It’s a combination of:

  • Reasonable portions
  • Food quality
Social context

Are French People Truly Healthy?

In spite of everything I have said, we should not conclude that French people have found the secret to good life and good health by eating this way.

Cancer rates are still very high — almost as high as they are in North America.

And of course, French traditions are changing, as they are everywhere else.

Here are some final points of advice, translating everything to the raw food world:

* Spend more time to enjoy your meals in good company.
* Don’t eat between meals. (On a raw food diet, that may be a bit difficult to follow).
* Make your meals look beautiful, in order to enhance the appreciation of the whole experience, and even improve digestion.
* Care about what you eat. Discover new foods.
* Grow your own food if you can, or buy from local farmers that you know personally.

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.