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Diet and Eating Habits-The French Paradox

Updated on December 10, 2010
k@ri profile image

Kari has been an operating room nurse for 25 years. She has been everything from staff nurse to DON.

The French Paradox is simply the phenomenon that the French eat high-fat food, drink wine, smoke, rarely participate in structured exercise, but remain thinner and have less heart disease than other countries.  I have already discussed the effects red wine on this paradox in my hub, The French Paradox, Red Wine and Resveratrol.  Now it is time to look at eating habits, diet and exercise.

Now, I don't mean diet as in being on a diet.  As far as I can tell, the French do not go on diets.  I mean diet as in the types of food eaten.  There is a big difference.  The French seem able to keep a running total in their heads, eat more one meal, eat less the next.  Seems it is a learned skill, kids learning from parents how to adapt their eating to their needs.  I wonder if my kids are too old to learn...or if I am?

Eat Fresh, Real Food

The French like to eat fresh, real minimally processed foods.  For example, here in America, how many of you eat cereal for breakfast?  Many, I bet.  Remember that old Wheaties commercial, cereal is the "breakfast of champions".  Well, this may be one more advertising lie in a very, very long list.  We'll do just about anything in America to make money, won't we?  Including poisoning ourselves, while convincing us it's good.

The French will eat a little yogurt, some fruit, fresh french baguette, eggs, ham.  Real food made from real ingredients.  None of the super processed, frozen and fake-fat-filled foods we eat in America.  When the French eat fat they eat real fat.  Cream and butter, the types of fat that send your mind a signal of satiety.  That tells your mind you are full.  And of course, all things in moderation!

The French rarely snack between meals and if they do it is something fresh or freshly made.  They do not buy prepackaged snacks to give to their kids, nor frozen foods for convenience.  Food is a French tradition.  They like to savor food, not just eat for eating's sake.

In America we have developed the perfect blend of salt, sugar and fat that stimulates a pleasure center in our brains making us want to eat more and more.  Food scientists have studied this for years and are continually refining the combinations to make food irresistible.  So it is best not to even have one cookie or chip because this will start the cravings.

Savor Your Food

The French savor their food.  They notice how it looks, how it smells, the textures, the taste.  Each morsel is an exquisite experience for their senses.  They take a bite and enjoy the textures, the blending of flavors, chewing completely they relish each bite.  Good food is one of the most enjoyable pleasures in the world.  It doesn't make sense to bolt it down without enjoying it.

Take Your Time-Break It Up

The French like to serve their meals in separate courses, unlike Americans who put it all on the same plate. This can serve two purposes. It takes approximately 25 minutes for you brain to realize you have eaten. Breaking the meal up means it takes longer to eat it. This gives your mind time to realize you have eaten.

You are also less likely to eat as much if you are eating one thing. The French eat much smaller servings and are more likely to stop before they are full. Of course, if you know you have 2 or more delicious courses coming you won't want to fill up on the first.

Sit at the Table-Enjoy Each Other's Company

The French do not watch TV while they eat. They eat with others and sit at the table. Meals are a time to spend quality time together as a family. It is the time to eat, drink and find out how everyone's day went. Savor the food and good company. And don't talk with your mouth full.

Even alone you can employ some of these techniques. Read a book. Don't read while you eat. While you eat, enjoy the food. Then put your fork down and read a little more. Eat a little a little more. Enjoy your food.

Walk, Walk, Walk

The French walk much more than we do in America. They take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Walking ensures the additional health benefit of getting enough sunlight. Sunlight is necessary for Vitamin D production. Insufficient vitamin D can contribute to high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, osteoporosis, and other chronic conditions.


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    • profile image

      Derek Gardner 6 years ago

      One thing I would like to touch upon is that weightloss system fast can be achieved by the proper diet and exercise. People's size not only affects the look, but also the complete quality of life. Self-esteem, depressive disorders, health risks, along with physical capabilities are disturbed in an increase in weight. It is possible to just make everything right and at the same time having a gain. If this happens, a problem may be the offender. While too much food instead of enough physical exercise are usually at fault, common medical conditions and traditionally used prescriptions could greatly amplify size. Kudos for your post in this article.

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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 7 years ago from Ohio

      Research Analyst, I agree! Number one, I feel, is keep away from processed foods. Slow, relaxed, enjoyed, beloved...these are the adjectives that should describe our meals. Thanks! :D

      websclubs, Fresh is what I hear over and over. Paying attention to whether you are eating because you are hungry or eating because it tastes good or because you are bored is paramount I think. If you give yourself time, eating slowly and enjoying the time (for other than eating) will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Thanks! :D

    • websclubs profile image

      websclubs 7 years ago

      Hi k@ri in Sunny California,

      social people phenomenon, enjoy your meals, French bread freshly ground coffee, healthy lifestyle, how French eat high-fat Fresh foods, drink wine, participate in walking exercise, drastically change & remain thinner and have less heart disease... European & Asian lifestyles... balance and moderation keep it simple slower lifestyle. Smaller meal portions, focusing habit on eating slower, take time to enjoy your foods, with friends and family.

      Nice hub Thank you very much for this great post.

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 7 years ago

      the french have it right, avoid processed foods, walk more, eliminate snack foods, cook real food, have wine with meal and eat slow and enjoy the dish great advice.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      wannabewestern, Thanks! I am glad you think so. You should also write a hub...this is an important subject and different viewpoints will add depth! :D

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from Iowa

      A big thumbs up. I was thinking about this topic the other day and tossing about the idea of writing a hub, but you have covered the material perfectly. So well put!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      James, Thanks! We, as Americans, need to stop rushing through life, wishing for tomorrow...enjoy a good meal, good friends and good life. :D

      dsletten, We do eat much too much processed foods. There is definitely much to learn from the French!

    • dsletten profile image

      dsletten 8 years ago from United States

      Great hub. Yes, we Americans do eat too much processed food even though fresh food is easily available. We could learn from the French!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      Fabulous article.  Fresh foods (unprocessed—no corn syrup); red wine; leisurely meals; with good company.  A wonderful, healthy lifestyle.  Nice.  You have done us a marvelous service here, K@ri and I, for one, appreciate you.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      shamel, Love your new avatar! Yes, they say this is why. LOL, that is why I am going to try it! I went on the raw food diet, but now I am only at about 60%. (My kids got really, really bored with it) I think they will like this more.

      Jerilee, You hit the nail on the head! Processed food are what are killing us. Yes, they are easier, but is the price worth it? I came off the day after Thanksgiving last year, and my kids "hate" me for it! LOL :D

      shamel, I do not eat junk food, even once a week anymore. It is as it says...junk! I hate to say, but most "fast food" is junk also. I am often hungry, but will no longer lower myself to it. :D

    • shamelabboush profile image

      shamelabboush 8 years ago

      Please don't forget the big problem which is the fast food or junk food!!! Who doesn't eat junk food at least once a day? This is bcz of the new age fast pace. I also believe that the structure of the human body will drastically change in teh coming centuries, viz, belly protruding, life-span deterioration, impotence...etc

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Excellent analysis! I think it's not only true of the French but many other European and Asian countries. I've been giving it a lot of thought and have pretty much concluded that we shouldn't eat anything that man has altered (ie. no processed foods) and that is our biggest American diet downfall.

    • shamelabboush profile image

      shamelabboush 8 years ago

      That's why french chicks look yonger and pretty :) I like their dietary habits specially focusing on fresh food. Nice.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 8 years ago from South Africa

      @misha Irish butter Kerrigan's I presume?

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks Misha, It will take some serious effort...but hopefully the outcome will be worth it! :D

    • Misha profile image

      Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

      Good one Kari, pretty atypical for American I tell you. :) Yeah, I too think real food and culture of eating is the key. And you can get it in USA too, but it takes a serious effort to spot the real food in the stores. We recently discovered Irish butter - what a delight! :)

      Oh, and great new pic of your lovely smile! :)

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      LInda, Yes, better than diet, a way of life! Definitely on to "sink your teeth into"! Good way of putting it! I am glad you liked it. This research really will help me also! :D

    • profile image

      Linda Myshrall 8 years ago

      Funny you should publish this just as I am thinking of the "D" word... Now, that works! Eat fresh, enjoy your meals, eat with pals, let them last... That's a diet I can sink my teeth into... sorry... couldn't resist!

      No kidding now- excellent hub. Thanks Kari, I can (will) use the help!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      sixty, Yes, it seems they really know how to eat. No wonder they like to savor their food. Have fun in Sept!

      Invictus, They do, even while they are eating all the "good" stuff!

      R Burow, After researching this, it has made me a believer. :D

      ethel, It seems they do have the hang of it. I am going to start serving things in separate courses to start. It makes sense.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      The French seem to have got this bang on. Nice hub

    • R Burow profile image

      R Burow 8 years ago from Florida, United States

      Very convincing hub ! Thanks.

    • I*n*v*i*c*t*u*s profile image

      I*n*v*i*c*t*u*s 8 years ago

      Another great one k@ri! It is so true the French have the secret of a great diet! :)

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 8 years ago from South Africa

      I try to eat a bit like the French accompanied by a glass of good red wine. Even the children in France drink wine (suitably watered down of course). I remember the crusty french bread and the cheeses. The tiny (but expensive) freshly ground coffee (no caffeine free as I recall). The great boullibase and escargots (snails). I will be in Paris for three days in September. I can't wait! You have awakened my taste buds again!

      Great hub.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Shalini, There is a lot we can learn from them. :D

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      They eat good, they look good! Yes, there's a lot the rest of the world can learn from the French way of eating!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      LOL, May! That's a good one! :D

      Peggy, Yes, their habits are much healthier than most of America's. Bon Appetit to you also!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We can learn from the French...and actually many of the people in Europe who practice many of these same lifestyles. Bon Appetit!

    • mayhmong profile image

      mayhmong 8 years ago from North Carolina

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      May, I'm not very fond of elevators myself. But it is good to take the time to savor when you can.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Paper Moon, I agree, a good meal is something that should not be rushed, but savored and enjoyed...just like good sex!

      Jill, I love eating outside where you can watch the people going by. It is very relaxing and enjoyable. :D

    • mayhmong profile image

      mayhmong 8 years ago from North Carolina

      LOL at PM That probably explains why some of them French folks are so beautiful and fit more. Now I wouldn't have time to savor and prepare a well fresh meal of anything? But I like the idea of taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Them things are always scary to me!

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 8 years ago from Philippines

      Great hub K@ri!

      Yes, I have observed that too, French serving of food is much much smaller compared to American size serving. Also, that they take their time eating. Maybe this explains why there are so many street cafes. Some people just enjoy watching people go by as they eat their food.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 8 years ago from In the clouds

      Good food can, and should be like good sex. The care put into making it, the vibes one puts in ones food. And of course the savoring of it. Great hub. I used to be a chef, and I could not agree more. Drives me crazy now when our fast lifestyle forces me to eat substandard food. Great Hub. Cheers!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Violet, Yes, it is all about balance and taking your time. Thanks!

    • VioletSun profile image

      VioletSun 8 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      I really, really like this hub of how the French eat, it not hard to emulate; the sense I got from your article is one of balance. I had a bad habit of eating too fast so have been focusing on eating slower.

      Thumbs up!


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