The French Paradox: A Personal Story
I grew up in France in a family that you would qualify as the perfect example of the French paradox. We ate baguette, butter, saucisson, some heavy sauces and typical traditional French meals with a little red wine (for the adults) at lunch and sometimes dinnertime – and yet we were of average weight and healthy.
What is the French paradox?
Research in the 1980s tried to discover how despite their diets of heavy saturated fats and wine drinking the French had far lower rates of heart disease than say the British.
At home, I saw first-hand why this might be the case.
My family (and the French generally in those days) had quite a healthy, balanced diet of plenty of fresh produce, not eating red meat every day and there was definitely some restraint – not deprivation – in our eating habits.
A bottle of Coke was produced and slowly consumed amongst 5 of us perhaps twice a year as a treat.
Many of my neighbours grew their own fruit and vegetables and I remember going to local farmers’ markets to pick less than perfect-looking but wholesome produce. We ate fresh homemade vegetable soup at dinner every day of the year (to us kids’ despair!).
The adoption of un-healthy convenience foods then spread to France as it has done globally, which has definitely changed the health of the French – and the world.
What have I learnt from this?
Coming up to December celebrations and the over-indulgence this often entails often reminds me of what my mother used to do.
She would eat very light soup or steamed vegetables with a little chicken or fish or even fast – on the days preceding and following feasts. She always advocated to ‘go light’ / ‘mange léger’ before or after celebration meals.
Balance was what it was about. And self-awareness.
We didn’t just eat/drink ‘because it was there’, but because we wanted to really savour the good food and occasion.
The other take-away I learnt was that good fats (yes, good old butter and full-fat creams etc) are actually good for you and don’t create more heart disease (as shown in many studies in recent years) or obesity/diabetes etc.
Heated vegetable oils, sugars, and processed unnatural foods do.
And they create a whole host of other problems: addictions, obesity, mental health problems, heart and other chronic conditions we’ve battled with since saturated fats and fresh foods were banned from our diets.
Time to re-think what’s really ‘good’ for us and go back to balance, self-awareness, good fats and proper foods.