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Why don’t the French get fat?

Having just returned from a few days in Paris, and having indulged in all kinds of Parisian delights, the big question is why don't the French get fat? Truly. Dining out is a national pass time, you can hardly walk a few feet without running into towers of delicious pastry, amazing cheese, foie gras, baguettes, crepes, macarons, butter, and let's not forget chocolate and wine. So what gives?

The French are skinnier than Americans, and significantly so

Americans are the fattest people in the developed world, with 30.6% of our population technically obese. France is ranked #23 with only 9.4% obese. To me, these are amazing statistics.

What a Cornell study Found

A 2008 study at Cornell University analyzed the eating habits of 133 Parisians and 145 Chicagoans, focusing on how individuals decide to stop eating. What they found was the French as a group focused on internal clues to make the decision to stop eating, specifically they stopped eating when they were no longer hungry. Americans, however, tend to focus on external clues, such as my plate is clean, my TV show is over, the bag of chips is gone. Even more interesting, the folks at Cornell found that regardless of nationality, obese people were more apt to focus on external cues, and healthy people tend to focus on internal cues.

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My thoughts on the French Paradox

I think the folks at Cornell are definitely on to something, but I think there are other significant differences between how French and Americans approach food. Here are my thoughts:

The French take their meals very seriously

The French spend time shopping for food in fabulous street markets and specialty shops. They value high quality food and spend more of their disposable income on food. French spend 13.6% of their income for food at home and Americans spend 5.5%. The French buy small amounts of fresh, whole foods and not large quantities of pre-prepared highly processed foods. Next time you are in the super market take a look at what your fellow shoppers have in their carts. Take a look at what is in your cart. What percentage is whole unprocessed food?

French portions are smaller

Super-sizing is rare, even for items like coffee. You don't see a lot of 24-ounce to-go coffee cups on the street.

The French don't focus on low-fat food.

In France, every where you turn you see high fat food. In the U.S. we have long believed low-fat foods were the secret to healthy eating. Unfortunately, we are losing the low-fat battle.  Many low-fat foods are ladened with sugar, over-processed and don't create the satiety that comes from eating fat. So we eat greater quantities of less nutritional food.

The French start young

Karen Le Billon wrote French Kids Eat Everything, a book on her American family's experience when they moved to the North of France. What she quickly learned is that French children are expected to eat well-balanced healthy adult meals from day one. The French purposefully teach the connection between eating habits and health at home and in school.

The French enjoy each meal

They sit at a table to eat, even if it is just to have a cup of coffee. They allow for long meals with conversation. They eat minimal fast food. They eat slowly and with impecable manners. At restaurants they are in no hurry to get the bill. On one hand, you might assume a longer meal would mean a chance to eat more calories. On the other hand, by slowing down your meal, you may give yourself a chance to feel full.

The French walk

The French are less reliant on their cars and chose to walk instead of drive their car. Daily walking adds up.

Put a little Paris in your life

To incorporate these French habits I'm going to take a 2-mile walk into town with my friend Eva and enjoy a small cheese platter, some good conversation and a glass of wine!

Here are some pictures from The Marché du Pont de l'Alma on President Wilson Avenue

This last picture is of my daughter Lauren and George, a charming man who sold us wonderful flavored sea salt. Look for him at the market on President Wilson avenue. Tell George we sent you! 


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