French people often eat a diet that is rich in saturated fat, yet their obesity rates and levels of coronary heart disease aren't as high as America's. This puzzling statistic was termed the "French Paradox" by Dr. Serge Renaud, a scientist from the University of Bordeaux.
How does it work?
Both Dr. Will Clower (author of The Fat Fallacy) and Guiliano offer some explanations for why traditional French eating habits enable French women to stay slimmer than their foreign counterparts and live a healthier lifestyle into the bargain.
French women eat 'good' fats rather than 'bad' fats
The French diet is largely made up of healthy unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) from plant and dairy sources and some 'natural' saturated fats from cheese and whole milk. These are easier for the body to break down. The average American diet features greater amounts of 'bad' trans fat from hydrogenated vegetable oil (commonly found in processed foods like cookies and donuts), which has been shown in several studies to have very negative impacts on blood cholesterol levels.
French women savor their food
They tend to taste small morsels individually rather than eating by large forkfuls. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to signal feelings of fullness, so when you slow down with smaller bites, you taste food more and are satisfied with less. Americans, on the other hand, often exclude pleasure in eating that makes them eat more -- it's common to see them munching while working, snacking while watching TV. Studies have shown that people are more likely to overeat when they are distracted during their meals.
French women eat fresh
The French diet features a large amount of fresh food. It's not at all uncommon for French women to spend a good chunk of their time selecting fresh ingredients to use in their cooking. Processed 'American' foods that are high in fat and sugar play only a very marginal role in 'French' diets so the likes of bagels, pizza, burgers, potato chips and candy go out of the window to a large extent.
French women eat regular meals and don't snack between meals
Sitting down for meals (rather than snacking on the go or doing other things while eating) allows you to enjoy your food to a greater extent, aids digestion and can help you to feel fuller for longer.
French women indulge -- in smaller portions
Eating smaller amounts of good quality food is better than consuming larger quantities of low quality food. The idea is that you can eat whatever you like -- as long as you only eat a small amount of it -- and this applies to treats too.
French women drink plenty of water
The French prefer bottled water to sodas which are laden with sugar and hidden calories.