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The French Paradox

May 20, 2011

Tags: food, order, anti-oxidants, beer, Bordeaux, bread, brie - triple, carbohydrates, cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, cheese, chicken, cigarettes, crème brulée, escargots, fat, fat - saturated, fish, foie gras, food – grown, food - plastic, food - processed, food - quality, food - real, French, French Paradox, freshness, fresh things, frying, garlic, Gauloises, HFCS, fat - hydrogenated, junk food, margarine, market - open, midday meal, onion soup, plant molecules, polyphenols, produce - fresh, proteins, resveratrol, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), smoking, snacking, snails, starches – white, sugar, tobacco, trans-fats, wine

We arrived in Paris on Sebastian Kneipp’s birthday – on the 17th of May and celebrated with a glass of wine. And a lunch consisting of three courses: Onion soup (minus the cheese and the bread), escargots (snails) in garlic, crème brulée. Not terribly healthy – but delicious.

Writing from Paris, of course, I want to talk about the French Paradox.

French people eat more fat (think triple brie and foie gras!), drink more wine (think a smooth Bordeaux!) and smoke more than their US counterparts (think Gauloises!), yet they die less of cardiovascular disease. American scientists dubbed this puzzle the French Paradox – and they have come up with some tentative explanations:

• The French surely are underreporting their cardiac deaths
• The French have their main meal at midday and take more time for it
• The French prefer wine over beer; wine contains healthy resveratrol
• The French don’t snack
• The French eat less trans-fats (frying)
• The French eat less hydrogenated fats (margarine, processed food)
• Perhaps saturated fats are not as bad as we thought
• The French eat less sugar, less HFCS, less white starches
• The French cigarette tobacco is not as adulterated American tobacco
• The whole study might be wrong


American scientists looked for the fat contents, the carbohydrates, the proteins to come up with an answer, missing the big, simple picture: fresh foods. Fresh food contains life-giving molecules beside the three biggies (fats, carbs, proteins). Those molecules are miniscule in weight, but hugely important in how they support health. We are from Nature, and throughout Evolution, we ate whole foods. Only modern “food” production has done away with Nature’s wisdom.

The three biggies were important when people were starving – if you don’t get fat and the other two, all the best polyphenols and anti-oxidants and other small plant molecules will not keep you alive. But now that we have plenty of food (which is a first in history – but don’t forget it is not yet true for every single person in the world), we need to turn to quality of food. Which needs we need to return to real food – the food Nature intends us to eat. And not to make it too difficult: It is mostly vegetables we need to bring back on our tables.

The French are eating real food; Americans are eating plastics masquerading as food. Don’t get me wrong – junk food is inching its way also into the French society. But overall, the French still go to the open market to buy fresh produce and freshly slaughtered chickens and fish. Except for the last item on the list, all the factors may play a role. But the main thing is the freshness of the food. The quality lies in fresh things, grown things – not concocted in the lab and manufactured in bulk.

And by the way, their cigarettes might be a tad healthier – but please don’t start your French new life with Gauloises!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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