Question: are the three French hens healthier because they are French or because they drink red wine? Nearly 20 years ago the term “French Paradox” hit the United States and red wine consumption soared. To this day people often tell me that they drink red wine because the French are healthier, “don’t get fat,” or any number of “health” reasons. However, is it red wine that is the fountain of health, or is there something else we need to look at?
Here are some facts about how the “French” eat in general:
- They often eat smaller portions of everything overall.
- They usually select high quality food as opposed to processed foods.
- They shop for fresh food more often.
- Snacking between meals is rare.
- Meals are for eating, not a side note while working, watching TV, standing or driving a car.
- Fast food is not as common throughout France as compared to the U.S. Of course it is found in the big cities, but not as commonplace throughout the country.
- Yes, they do consume red wine.
Here is what people don’t think about:
- France has several types of cuisine that varies throughout the country. The cuisine in the north is very different from the south along the Mediterranean sea considered one of the Mediterranean countries. Think about the cuisine in the U.S.: we have southern food, southwest food, and various seafood choices depending on what part of the coast you choose (blue crab in Maryland vs. lobster in Maine vs. salmon in Seattle), so it is silly to equate French food as one type of style. It would be like someone visiting Chicago and extrapolating that all of us eat deep dish stuffed pizza. Wrong, I’ve never eaten a pizza like that outside of downtown Chicago.
- The leading causes of death in France: heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), lung cancer, and colon cancer. While the rates are lower in France than in the US, they same diseases kill them.
- The French are now experiencing an increase in overweight and obesity rates.
- We cannot take one part of a culture’s diet, add that to our lifestyle and think it provides the same overall benefit. Well we can, but it usually doesn’t work that way.
Americans are often extrapolating the “good” parts of the particulate diet: soy from Japan, olive oil from the “Mediterranean diet,” red wine in the French diet. What is often lost is the overall lifestyle within these cultures has as well as how long they live the lifestyle (their whole life compared to starting at 50 years old).
Consuming red wine does not equal a French lifestyle. There is a big difference between consuming red wine, savoring high quality food in small portions, and ensuring fresh food as opposed to consuming red wine as you plow through a meal in less than five minutes that could feed a family of four.
Note: I admit that I have never been to France, but I do know people who are French (not of French descent, but French). I talked to them about information in this post before I wrote it.