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What's Trending: The French Paradox. Is it the wine or something else now?

By: Paula Hendricks, Granite Bay View columnist
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Those darn French have it all: Great food and wine, the most romantic city in the world, a good ticker and a slim waistline. What they don’t have are epidemic health problems that plague Americans in the form of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Yet, they eat butter, cheese, fatty duck, and drink red drink wine. How is this possible?

We have great wine, organic food and beautiful cities. But, sadly, we also have an excess of fast food chains, processed foods in grocery stores, add high fructose corn syrup to replace fat in foods, and drink diet sodas. We have been taught that eating fat makes us fat (a big fat lie), carbohydrates are better for us than eggs and meats (another lie), and to eat organic cereals for breakfast fortified with vitamins and minerals, so we don’t have to worry about eating vegetables and fruits (yet another lie).  Need I say more?

The definition of the French Paradox is a low incidence of heart disease in French people, despite their eating a high cholesterol and saturated fat diet, washed down with red wine.  Many scientists believe the beneficial effects are from resveratrol intake, a polyphenol found in red wine, which are responsible for reducing one's risk for heart disease by negating the effects of the saturated fat intake.

I think there may be more to it than that. 

In a recent 2015 Science Daily article, scientists with the American Chemical Society showed that the association with the French people’s cheese intake and metabolism may be another reason for the French Paradox.  The researchers showed that high fat cheese consumption produced a compound in the gut called butyrate, which has been linked to a reduction in cholesterol levels and weight loss. This is another feather in the French cap, and another reason for me to eat more cheese.

The French culture is unique. They eat more fresh foods than other Western cultures and don’t snack or skip meals. I also believe they are healthier than we are because of their higher intake of fat.  When you eat fat, coupled with protein and vegetables or fruit, your body doesn’t have a large insulin surge like it would if you ate low-fat foods for your meal leaving you hungry again in two to three hours, looking around for a quick pick-me-up. Portion sizes are much smaller when fat intake is consumed. Another paradox?  It really is simple biochemistry.

The French strongly believe meals are an integral part of their day to get together, socialize and reconnect. How many of us eat on the go, in the car, or at our desk?  Unfortunately, I can say yes to all of the above at times. This style of eating makes it very difficult to gauge how much you actually consume — or even if you enjoy — the food at all. 

And don’t get me started on how we feed children differently than adults.  Do kids only eat pizza, macaroni, cheeseburgers and fries? That’s what a kid menu offers them in restaurants. It is also what many parents serve their picky eaters because they won’t each fish, vegetables, or salads. What a travesty. 

Bottom line: While it may just be the culture of the French, including the non-snacking, smaller portions, or the wine, cheese and fat consumption, there is a lesson to be learned.  Americans need to slow down and take a breath and learn to prepare, smell and enjoy real food, perhaps a simple, freshly sliced tomato and piece of cheese, and get rid of the “pretend” food we eat out of convenience. We are not doing our bodies any favors by taking short cuts to make more time for other things. Healthy eating is not an option; it is a lifesaver.