The French paradox

How much does food play a factor in optimal health and how much can be allocated to lifestyle? A little less stress and a lot more life enjoyment — is this more important than the nutrition factor of the foods we eat?

How much does food play a factor in optimal health and how much can be allocated to lifestyle?

A little less stress and a lot more life enjoyment — is this more important than the nutrition factor of the foods we eat?

A more modest but regular consumption of red wine, the enjoyment of a delectable French pastry made from whole ingredients and the time spent in preparation of whole natural foods dined over several hours amongst family and friends followed by a plate of fine cheeses — does this not sound like a delightfully indulgent, yet somehow healthful lifestyle?

How does the company of good friends and family play a role in our health?

The French diet — said to be more rich in saturated fats, some modest indulgences in sugary rich pastries and, of course, breads, not to mention an abundance of cheese and wine, puts an intriguing spin on the direction of health in North America — leaning towards a more plant-based diet, reducing saturated fats, the elimination of sugar and foods containing gluten.

With lower rates of heart disease and obesity, this French Paradox, as it is called, certainly brings on the question of how much the quality and freshness of the food dictate our health, as well as living a low-stress lifestyle.

Is there an element of how food is consumed versus what foods are consumed?

Of course, the most popular conclusion among the many studies done on the French Paradox claim their lower incidences of coronary heart disease are attributed in part to the high consumption of red wine.

The Nutrition and Vascular Physiopathology Research Unit in France showed studies that the 20 to 30 grams of alcohol consumption daily “can reduce the risk of CHD by at least 40 per cent.”

Although antioxidant rich polyphenols, particularly resveratrol found in red wine, produce many heart health benefits, the moderate consumption of alcohol is still associated with increased death rate from liver cirrhosis as well as other health concerns.

You just can’t win when it comes to studies.

As with anything, it’s important to look at the whole picture.

Many North Americans who rush off to France will find themselves gaining weight, indulging in all the fine food France has to offer.

Why is that?

Why do North Americans seem to be so indulgent — what is it we are really hungry for?

Maybe we are looking for a lifestyle where food doesn’t have to be such a chore — where maybe even life itself doesn’t have to be such a chore. A lifestyle focused a little more on enjoyment, a slower pace, the pleasure of food and company, eating mindfully and in smaller portions.

The French also pay close attention to variety, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, being active and consuming an abundance of liquids throughout the day, some of which — yes — is red wine.

What you eat, how you eat as well as the company you keep all play a role in our health.

Appreciation of the simplicity of life and taking the time to eat among friends and family has immeasurable health benefits. Ones that maybe a study can’t quite measure precisely, but instinctively we just know.

Remember then to choose quality over quantity and be mindful of your day-to-day life, enjoying the simple pleasures of each day.

Create a lifestyle that incorporates wholesome food and more enjoyment — and live your own French Paradox.

Kristin Fraser, BSc, is a holistic nutritionist and local freelance writer. Her column appears every second Thursday. She can be reached at

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