Not only do the French live longer than average Americans, they are slimmer, too. How can this be possible, especially when they eat lots of bread and cheese and drink wine nearly every day?
Researchers have been talking about this French Paradox since the 1970s, back when we realized that the French ate lots of saturated fat from dairy products and meat, yet they had a low rate for heart disease, while the British and Americans with the same saturated fat intake had a much higher rate of heart attacks and strokes.
Amazingly, the obesity rate in France is just under 10%, while in the US it is more than 30%–we have 300% more people who are overweight.
Some researchers have attributed this French health paradox to red wine consumption, and likely some of the health benefits of moderate red wine consumption play a role, but that’s likely only a small factor, and the reality is that the French drink less wine now than they did in the past, in fact, Americans now have the highest wine intake per person.
Yes, there are benefits to consuming 1-2 servings of wine per day (a serving is 4.5 ounces or 150 ml), as the pigments in red wine block oxidation and lower inflammation. Although drinking more than 3 servings of any form of alcohol, including red wine, is clearly harmful.
Likely more important than wine consumption is that the French eat more of the best foods. If you’ve been following my blogs over time, I’m sure you’ve heard me sing the praises for eating more fiber, especially from vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts. The French eat nearly twice as much fiber as Americans, with the average French citizen consuming a bit over 20 grams every day. This clearly plays a positive role.
The French are also more active, as they walk more than the average American as well.
Although the French do eat bread regularly, they don’t consume GMO bread like we do in the US. They have resisted the GMO grain movement and still produce wheat from original strains, and non-GMO wheat likely causes less inflammation than the wheat produced in the US.
The French also consume more probiotics foods. While cheese in the US is largely pasteurized and has far less flavor, French cheese is often raw, unpasteurized, and loaded with beneficial bacteria and fungi, providing a beneficial load of probiotic-rich microbes to support our gut microbiome. The French also eat lots of yogurt and many other fermented foods.
Not only do the French eat more beneficial foods, they use far less hormones, chemicals, and pesticides in their food as well. When they do eat meat or dairy, it is essentially organically and pasture-raised, never given hormones, and if they have steak, they eat a small 3.5 ounce portion.
But it isn’t just the food that is healthier. My final observation regarding the French Paradox is that the French appear less stressed than average Americans. They enjoy long, unhurried meals, they have closer connections to family, and they clearly express that sense of “Joie de Vivre”.
It shouldn’t be overly surprising that the French are able to eat more cheese, bread, and wine and live longer, healthier, and be trimmer than we do in the US when you consider their higher activity levels, greater fiber and probiotic intake, cleaner, less toxic food, and lower stress levels.
As I’m spending the next two summers exploring ports and researching how Mediterranean foods are both healthy and delicious, stay tuned for updates and recipes that will help you to live longer, healthier, and be trimmer.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
I have heard that it’s the RESVERATROL in the GRAPES that accounts for the French Paradox and that there have been lots of studies done that keep showing latest discovered health benefits of it. Not the wine, but the grapes/grape juice – no alcohol.
Stuart, Multiple factors account for the French Paradox. It clearly isn’t just the wine. Yet the reality from multiple published studies is that those who drink 1-2 servings of red wine daily have better health, less heart attacks, and less dementia than those who never drink alcohol, and obviously drinking an excessive amount is not beneficial–it is harmful. Resveratrol is one of many nutrients in red wine. There are no studies yet showing that resveratrol lowers the rate for heart disease or memory loss. I do not recommend drinking grape juice, as the sugar load is very high. If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t need to start. But if you don’t drink red wine, I do recommend that you consume more red and purple pigments from eating more fruit, such as red grapes and pomegranates. Steven Masley, MD
This article is amazing! Thank you Dr. Masley. I’ve always wondered about this French paradox. I love the way you explain it!
Looking forward to learning from your experiences.
All you say maybe true, the same truth that all Dutchmen walk on wooden shoes or all Texans wear big hats.
I am a blue water sailor myself – pretty much sailed around the world. The only problems i ever had was with French sailors. France would be such a great country, unfortunately, so many Frenchmen live there. They seem so egoistic, is that a reason of their good health?
I love to follow your French and Spanish adventures. The past 6 years (I am 82 years old now) now, I have been walking the camino naar Santiago de Compostela. 3 times the camino del Norte, the area you are going to sail.
A suggestion: Tell a Frenchman that the best kitchen is in Spain, and tell the Spaniard that the best kitchen is in France. You will get a lot of invitation to have dinner to make their case that you are wrong. “Bon appetite”.
Love your project
As a former Seattleite you really are living the good life. Your beginnings are not too far from where I grew up… almost in the backyard of the U-Dub.
As a wish, please concoct some recipes with limited ingredients, like 3 to 5.
Good luck in checking off your bucket-list list. Happy sailing.
This may not be the answer you were looking for, and you are not alone, as this request is one I get often, but making a healthy and delicious meal with only 3-5 ingredients is a real challenge. That would be like chicken, avocado oil, and salt. It would be a bit plain and lack any anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant ingredients. I like to think of a healthy meal as I do a symphony planned by an orchestra–a beautiful thing. It would be really hard to play a symphony with only 3-5 instruments. Similarly, for optimal nutrition, we want a wide variety of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties, let alone that we want it to taste terrific as well. I find it a major challenge to create a recipe with the proper texture, acidity, flavor, as well as nutrient value with only 8-10 ingredients, let alone only 5.
However having said that, I do plan to share some simple tapa recipes this next month, and a few of them will only have 4-6 ingredients. Keep in mind that these are snacks, only part of a meal. All the best, Steven Masley, MD
Thank You Dr. Masley,
Please send your blog via Email also, as I do not do Facebook.
As a Sailer also, I can only imagine how much fun it will be to sail the coast of France and Spain; Not to mention the great Cuisines.
There are three factors to consider about Wine and GMO Wheat; America vs. France. One, in America the Wine is mostly Chemical Wine, while in France they are natural Wines. Two, we have only had GMO Wheat for less than twenty years. third, our Wines and Breads have been fortified more and more with Sugars. the French consume many confectionaries, but they are not anywhere as sweet as in America.
Best of luck and smooth sailing,
Thank you so much for that very rich info. I will look forward to more from your awesome journey!
Thank you for your observations. I look forward to following your adventures in Europe.
French most likely consume more critically important Vitamin K2 with the grass fed animal products they consume and American animal products are mostly grain fed lacking Vitamin K2.. Also, Many Americans are placed on prescription blood thinners which
conflict with taking k2 supplements.
Good points. Steven Masley, MD
good mate and peaceful sailing, many blessings. Jr Hughes
How do France and Italy compare when it comes to the prevalence of celiac disease?
The rate of celiac disease is lower in France and Italy than the US. We likely have double their rate, with a rate of 1% in the US and 3-6 per thousand in these Mediterranean countries. One concern is that genetically modified wheat in the US is more allergenic, causing higher gluten sensitivity. In recent years, the rate of celiac disease appears to be rising in France and Italy. Steven Masley, MD
i have lived in Paris off and on, have family who are Parisian. I have a lot to say about their diet. They drink a lotof coffee. They start their meals at 7;30 -10:30, when family is not around the dinner is simple, an entree with a glass of wine no more and that is at least three times a week.After work they walk, garden, soccer, and just enjoying before cooking etc. so exercise before meal. After meal relax with a movie or book with coffee. And no sweets before bed, sweets are for breakfast,
Thanks, yes portion size, quality and exercise are the key to health.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. Mediterranean diet and lifestyle is one of the healthiest way of living. In recent time, one similar diet, i.e. lifestyle raised in the Scandinavia, it is new Nordic diet, which is one of the most sustainable lifestyles in the world. Beside to that what you put in mouth, Nordic diet takes care of food origin (presumable organic products), as well as environment and soil, putting attention to nutrients cycling and renevability (energy and materia).
Great idea. The unpasteurized dairy, non GMO, no pesticides I believe contributes to better health. Is grape juice as beneficial as red wine? Have a great time in your travel research. And safe travels. Jerilyn
This is kinda of like “getting to know you”! I really like your recipes and all the input you give us! Hope you have a great time on your trip. It sounds heavenly! A sailboat ride is on my list of things to do!
Will be waiting to reap the benefits of your research! Wishing you and your wife a fabulous vacation ; happy sailing!
I am so happy you are having such an interesting trip. Enjoyed this Blog. Thank you for the information.
I am looking forward to your new book.
Hi, I agree on some of what you have said but not all french people eat bread and cheese like you imagine, just like not all Americans eat hamburgers., it’s a myth. I think after 25 years in France that the bottom line is that french people eat less than Americans , very moderately, and they take their time to sit down and enjoy it, no matter if it’s healthy or not. Wine is for being social, an apéro is normal and part of bringing on a healthy appetite. They also have appreciation for their food and where it has come from and usually they find it is delicious, even if very simple. It’s not the greatest food in the world, but it’s honest simple and appreciated. Bon appétit!!
I agree that how they eat might be as important as what they eat. Steven Masley, MD
I have moderate artic stenosis. Can I reverse it with diet and exercise.
Aortic stenosis is calcification of the aortic valve. It is not impossible, but very difficult to alter this course. The important challenge would be to prevent it from getting worse. I would highly recommend that you read my book, The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up.
Interesting article. It’s amazing that here in the US we resort to pesticides, hormones, drugs, etc. in our food. Nothing is clean unless you buy organic (not that you must buy everything organic).
It’s very upsetting to think the food we eat is so contaminated. I also believe we’re seeing more cancer cases as a result.
Thank you for the information. I want to be like the French!!!!!!!!!!!!
Many years ago I spent six weeks in France because of my interest
In the prehistoric area to see cro magnon caves. I walked a lot, drank red wine, ate frais gras, bread, cheese, lots of vegetables . I ate like a French woman. When I came home I went to the Doctor worried about
All I eaten. He smiled! Mary, he said, you have lost 15 lbs, your cholesterol is down 50 points. I suggest you move to France! By the way, I am now 88, and still eat like a French woman.
Why don’t you video tape yourself cooking those healthy recipes onboard your boat to share with us? That would be tres fabulous! We would love you forever!
I will be filming recipes on the boat soon.
I completely agree, having had a French mother who lived to a healthy 96 eating exactly as you describe.
Bon voyage et bonne chance !!
ps. Je suis un peu jalouse!
Dear Dr.Masley, as a non French living in Provence I can say that you are definitely right. French eat raw cheese, drink wine and stress less than Americans. Unless you want to have something done in the South of France, yes, you enjoy their way of ‘savoir vivre’. Have a lovely stay in France!
That’s a trip I’d love to do!!!
Enjoy your vacation My wife and I are anxiously awaiting the release of your next book.
Your research trip/ bucket list item sounds absolutely marvellous! Looking forward to some amazing insights and recipes as you live life to the full.
Look forward to more news.
Should we all move to France; or, when will French ideas move to North America?
It is up to us to share good ideas here. The better choices we make, the healthier we will be. Steven Masley, MD
Awesome and definitely share the knowledge. Great sailing and I always enjoy the info
Have a wonderful time sailing. Thank you for the great analysis of the French paradox! I can’t wait to see your new, healthy recipes!!!
I take your blueberry smoothie everyday and it completely removed my brain fog and tremendously improved my memory. Thank you for all your work and extremely beneficial publications. Looking forward to your Mediterranean cookbook!
John (in Michigan)
Is there a blog to follow your sailing journey?
Your sailing fan in Chicago, IL
Please go to http://www.drmasley.com and enter your Name & Email to receive my Better Brain Shopping guide and you will be added to my email list where I share articles, recipes, and other special content.
Great blog! I believe one of biggest factors is the stress, we Americans gotta go go & have have, I called it the McDonalds’ mentality of getting everything now!