Simply put, the French paradox summarizes the contradictory idea that even though French cuisine is high in saturated fats, the French population has low incidences of coronary heart disease (CHD) and other cardiovascular risk factors associated with diets high in fat.
And, although the paradox doesn’t necessarily mean the French can eat whatever they want when they want, it’s not an illusion either. In fact, when compared to an American diet, the amount of saturated fat intake between the two countries is roughly the same, yet CHD death rates in France are far less.
Yes, there are many factors that come into play in terms of the paradox, like trans fats versus saturated fats, but something that can’t be ignored is superfood presence in French cuisine. Not just the superfoods themselves, but the way they’re prepared and included in almost every meal.
What Are the French Superfoods?
Much like the French paradox catchphrase, the term “superfood ” is an expression used to describe foods rich in nutrients, vitamins, proteins and other disease-fighting ingredients beneficial to the human body.
A large percentage of the French population’s fat intake comes from dairy foods such as whole milk and cheese. And, although dairy isn’t considered a superfood, the French eat dairy in combination with superfoods like fish and fruit.
Fish has high protein content and is widely known for its beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which help with everything from joint health to cardiovascular disease . And, considering the French eat this superfood four to five times a week on average, the fish present in French cuisine is certainly keeping the population of France healthy.
Fruits have an abundance of vitamins and minerals as well as immune boosting, antioxidant rich properties. Fruit is a great tasting superfood that the French include in almost every meal. In French cuisine, apples and blueberries compliment cheese plates, which are a common pre-dinner course popular in French culture. But, believe it or not, the number one super-fruit in France comes in a glass.
Red Wine: A Superfood You Can Drink?
Grapes are an excellent source of vitamin A, C, B6, and folate, which helps prevent anemia. Not only that, they’re also high in antioxidants, which are widely known to reduce the likelihood of heart disease.
So, it’s no wonder the grape content in red wine, particularly the fermentation process of grapes and grape skins in wine production, is so beneficial. And, considering the population of France consumes more red wine per capita than any other country in the world, this superfood only adds to the French paradox.
In particular, the benefits of red wine come in three distinct categories: the wine’s fermented alcohol content, the presence of resveratrol, and abundant procyanidins.
• Alcohol – There’s strong evidence that suggest moderate drinkers, especially those drinkers that like to enjoy a glass or two of red wine everyday, are less likely to suffer from heart attacks. And, although the French indulge in foods high in saturated fats, their red wine intake is likely offsetting the fat and thus adding to the paradox.
• Resveratrol – The resveratrol present in red wine is known for its life extending, cancer fighting, anti-inflammatory benefits. But, in terms of the French paradox, the resveratrol in red wine is also linked to cardiovascular protection. In particular, it prevents the coronary build-up associated with heart disease.
• Procyanidins – Although only trace amounts of procyanidins are found in red wine and the grape superfood itself, the amounts found are enough to help with blood-vessel cell production. These blood-vessel cells reduce malondialdehydea absorbtion, which is a known cancer-causing agent.
So, What Exactly Is the French Culinary Lifestyle?
Regardless of the French paradox and the superfoods that help to make the French healthier than other countries, there are some pretty important lifestyle factors that the people of France practice on a daily basis when it comes to food consumption.
In combination with superfoods and the benefits of red wine, these food consumption practices add to the overall idea of the French paradox and largely explain the health of the French population.
• Smaller Portions – America is known for its huge portions and, in combination with processed foods high in saturated fats, the US and other countries are tipping the scales in terms of intake. The French, however, eat smaller portions with every meal, which has its obvious health benefits.
• Making Mealtime Count – The French are known for three-course lunches and five-course dinners. And, with proportions in mind, taking the appropriate amount of time to eat gives the body a chance to digest, which notifies the brain when the stomach is full and prevents overeating.
• The Three-Meal Plan – When it comes to a dining schedule, the French stick with the three-meal plan. They eat a balanced breakfast, lunch, and dinner spread out evenly across the day. Not only that, they simply don’t snack in between meals. Snacking not only coincides with unhealthy foods, it throws off the digestion and metabolism process.
• Freshness Comes First – The term “processed” is pretty much non-existent in French culinary culture. The reason the French paradox is so prevalent and the people of France get away with eating foods high in fat is because fresh foods contain healthy saturated fat that the body can easily process. And as always, when it comes to superfoods, the less processed, the better.
So, from red wine to the French culinary lifestyle, superfoods and the French paradox both play a role in keeping the French population healthier than most.