French Advice for Eating Well During Pregnancy, and Common Myths Explored

Moving to France I heard a variety of bizarre claims about how French women don’t follow the basic dietary laws of pregnancy known to all Anglophone women: “French pregnant women have a glass of red wine each day!” “French women drink loads of coffee” “French women keep eating unpasteurized cheeses throughout pregnancy” “French women barely […]

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Holiday Detox: A Little R&R for the Digestive System

The winter holiday season is over and it’s back to business as usual. After a week of stinky cheese, foie gras, and decadent chocolate (we were in Brussels, just minutes from a specialty Belgian chocolaterie) my digestive system is begging for mercy. As if being pregnant wasn’t enough in the bloating, indigestion, and generally feeling […]

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Parisian Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season

The holiday season in Paris is filled with all the wonder and charm and delicious food as you would imagine. Foie gras in the stores, Buche (cake resembling logs of wood) in the bakeries, and marrons glaces (glazed chestnuts) on the streets. Do the French indulge themselves, or do they continue to follow ingrained laws […]

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The French Food Pyramid

Since we arrived I’ve been putting my nutrition background* to use to mentally map out the “functioning local food pyramid”. A food pyramid is a nutritional construct to help people make smart food choices by offering them a pretty diagram of a geometric shape filled with images of food. The United States Department of Agriculture […]

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INTRODUCTION

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Before moving to France I couldn’t wait to live the French health lifestyle. In America the French are considered to have the ultimate ideal of lifestyles, eating delicious food and regularly drinking wine and yet beating us across various measures of health. This phenomenon even has a name – the French Paradox – which is basically the epidemiological observation that despite a diet relatively high in saturated fat, the French have low rates of death specifically attributed to coronary heart disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) has made publicly available health statistics available online for those who are curious(1). Thus I eagerly prepared myself to absorb as much of the French culture as possible. I memorized the basics I read in books – breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, gouter (snack) at 4, dinner at 8 and had my whole family on this eating schedule (yep, total dork).

Now that we have arrived, I find myself in complete shock. Any walk down the lovely quaint streets of Paris are filled with the delicate fragrance of cigarette smoke. Lunch breaks (which occur between 12 and 2, and often last for this entire time) appear to be a time when people congregate at cafes drinking booze, coffee, and ingesting cigarette smoke and deep conversation for lunch. No one dreams of exercising. Nearly every street has a boulangerie/patisserie (bakery) filled with starchy buttery treats, a fromagerie filled with delicious fattening (and horribly stinky) cheeses, and a charcuterie with a selection of [often red] meaty delicacies. All of this goes against the very grain of the American ideal of healthy living which has endorsed regular exercise, restriction of red meat and dairy, abundant fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of carbohydrates/gluten/refined carbohydrates. So every day as I walk the streets of Paris, seeing a line a block long outside of the corner bakery, I can’t help but keep asking myself WHY IN THE WORLD ARE FRENCH PEOPLE SO THIN?? And when I see what appear to be twelve year olds congregating across the sidewalk openly smoking cigarettes (blocking the passage of every well meaning pedestrian with a mission)… HOW ON EARTH ARE THEY HEALTHIER THAN AMERICANS??

And this is the mystery I am hoping to understand. Its time for us Americans to stop feeling guilty over every gram of carbohydrate and fat we ingest, or at least that is what I am telling myself as a I eat croissants, pains au chocolat, and baguettes every day.

 

Citations: (1) http://www.who.int/gho/countries/fra.pdf?ua=1