You’ve probably heard much (or little) about good fats and bad fats before. Here in North America, we often refer to unsaturated fats as “good fats”, and saturated fats as “bad fats”. We believe that consuming bad fats leads to increase in cardiovascular disease, while good fats do just the opposite (to a certain extent). Cream, cheese, butter, and chocolate all contain high proportion of saturated fats, and we often refer to those food as “unhealthy food”.
Then the French Paradox fails our belief system. We are shocked to know that though French people have a diet relatively rich in saturated fats, the incidence of coronary heart disease in France is relatively low – about a third of that in America. [Data]
Furthermore, less than one in ten people in France is obese, whereas more than three in ten Americans are obese. [Data] Data shows that, in 2002, French people consumed 108 grams of fat from animal sources per capita per day, while the number was 72 in America. Moreover, French people eat four times as much butter and 60% more cheese. [Data]
We thus can’t help asking the question: how come they can have all the unhealthy food and still be healthier than us (in many senses)?
A popular theory is that it is the wine that French people consume does the healthy job. Some, if not many, believed that the resveratrol in red wine is the answer to the French Paradox. High doses of resveratrol have been linked to longevity and cancer prevention in some other species, but the effects of low levels of resveratrol on human beings lack medical consensus.
On average, people in France consume 11.4 liters alcohol per capita annually, which is only 2.8 liters more than the consumption in the U.S. Alcohol consumption is higher in many other countries than that in France, but low rate of heart disease death is not ubiquitous. Furthermore, a team of scientists also claimed to have identified a particular group of polyphenols in wine that offered the greatest degree of protection to human blood-vessel cell; however, some other researches suggest that this very chemical compounds reduce the absorption of malondialdehyde in body, which is implicated in cancer, diabetes and other diseases. [Read More]
We have worked so hard for so long to try to find the particular chemical substance that is responsible for the French Paradox, but, as of now, we have not gone too far. If we stop narrowing our sight on to the particularities, some other interesting things start to come up.
Researchers looked at dishes served in restaurants and food sold in supermarkets in France and America. The serving sizes in France are significantly smaller than that in America. Even the candy bars sold in Paris are smaller than those in Philadelphia. Moreover, when eating fast food, “Parisians spent 22 minutes on average dining at McDonald’s,” while Philadelphians spent less than 14 minutes. [Read More]
“In my opinion, this “paradox” is a perfect example of what we do all the time in medicine in the U.S. We try to simplify something, break it down, or study it to understand the exact components of what makes it work, when it’s so much more complicated than that.” – [Quote]
Given the fact that we are all eating food that are not spoiled (at least for most of the time), what we eat in America are often highly processed pre-packaged fast food. Fresh food is much more appreciated in France than in America; not because they particularly value fresh food (they do, though), but rather because we often fail to appreciate the linkage between freshness and quality. Small servings of different fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and meats (or fish) are often included in a typical daily meal. Having different small servings of carefully prepared food grants more satisfaction than having a single serving of super-size fast food. Moreover, Eating meals take much longer in France than in America. The lunch break in France is often two hours long (which is also the case in many other European and Asian countries). Having long lunch break means that they do not have to rush through meals like we often do, and they can unchain themselves from work stress in the middle of the day. Stress, as we all know, is definitely a health destroyer; it is, in many senses, closely linked to cardiovascular problems.
Transportation is another big factor of our life. We walk relatively much here at UCLA. However, most people probably wish that they could drive, and inefficient public transportation system is arguably one of the reasons why America becomes a driving nation. Walking is often not a considerable option. However, it is a different picture in France. Gas is expensive; walking and public transportation are thus desired. Instead of large supermarkets locate at middle of nowhere, corner stores and markets are designed to accompany the nationwide walking and transporting pace.
What I am trying to convey is a picture of a more cognitive life. We live in a fast-moving country: we eat on our own (often in a car with a bag of fast food); we drive alone, to work and back home, to supermarket and gas station. We download many apps and softwares to “save time”. We forget how to slow down and enjoy life. We are occupied by stress, and that damages our health. We then try to isolate the factors that can keep us healthy, but we forget that being healthy is, from beginning, a positive lifestyle.
•“Health is about the whole picture — not just fat, not just carbs, not just food, but everything, the way we live our lives.” – [Quote]