The French have a diet in which they consume a comparatively high amount of fat and drink quite a lot of wine; yet, in comparison to the U.S., they have half the rate of heart disease, have a lower obesity rate and live 2.5 years longer.
Traditionally, cardiologists and dieticians have considered the staples of the French cuisine to be the worst possible diet choices for the cardiovascular system. It therefore begs the question: what is this (apparent) French paradox?
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” – Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
Firstly, the French have a culture of actually enjoying food. It has been found that during the day the French spend more time with food than Americans. Taking the time to eat more slowly in a leisurely atmosphere may be part of the reason why people in certain societies such as France have a better digestion.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Secondly, saturated fat (which contains vitamin A, D and B8) maintains our teeth, bones, gums, hair, skin, liver and kidneys. Scientists universally accept that trans fats – found in almost all fast foods, many bakery products, and margarines – increase the risk of cardiovascular disease through inflammatory processes. But the mantra that saturated fat must be avoided in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has been proved erroneous. In fact, scientific evidence shows that reducing the saturated fat intake has increased cardiovascular risks.
The people with the highest longevity in France live in the Gers region, a Midi-Pyrénées department in the south-west of the country. It is no coincidence that the traditional regional fare is very high in saturated fats: duck fat is used for cooking, often combined with ingredients such as pork, goose, duck, foie gras and cheese.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Thirdly, wine improves cardiovascular health. The average French person consumes 16 gallons of red wine per year. On average, that comes down to quite a small glass of red wine a day. Red wine contains substance called piceatannol which inhibits the formation of new fat cells and prevents them from developing into mature fat cells. The compound blocks insulin’s ability to store fat. In fact, several researches have found that moderate wine drinkers show the lowest accumulation of abdominal fat among all drinkers.
As for the red wines of the Gers region in south-west France, the Madiran, Cahors, Bergerac and Saint-Mont are exceptionally rich in procyanidins, a flavonoid that functions as a saturated fat scraper in the bloodstream.
“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” – W.C. Fields
In short, the French paradox is not a paradox at all. There are proven reasons why red wine and food with saturated fat – from avocados to grass fed beef – are good for you. With intelligent habits, everyone can eat the most delicious dishes, taste the most amazing wines and generally indulge in culinary epicurean delights, and still be healthy.
“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” – Erma Bombeck