Let paradox guide holiday eating

The “French paradox” has puzzled American and British scientists for over ten years.  The phenomenon goes like this: the French eat a lot of high-fat foods – butter, cream, pastry, cheese, and foie gras – and tend to report less frequently that they are “on a diet” and yet their rates of obesity and heart disease are lower than in either country.

Different theories have been proposed to explain the difference.  Over the holidays you should have ample opportunity to test them out and maybe enjoy a little of that joie de vivre.

Raise your glass
One theory is that the consumption of reasonably small amounts of red wine – one glass a day or so – may help to stimulate chemical in the body which reduce thrombus formation.  This wouldn’t explain the lack of obesity, but might explain why rates of heart disease are lower.

Although this has been challenged as an explanation for the French paradox – if so, why are other cultures where red wine is commonly consumed not receiving the same health benefits – it does seem that a little red wine may be good for you.  So raise your glass this holiday season and toast to your good healt

Variety is the spice of life
The French diet is varied – fish, chicken, and meat all play a role.  But the French are especially good at varying their diet by encorporating a lot of fruit and vegetables. Being indoors over the winter may give you time to experiment with different recipes, and with fresh produce from around the world available all year round there’s no excuse for getting into a food rut.

Another theory that nutritionists developed about the French Paradox was that the use of olive oil, a “good” fat, helped the body process the bad fats. There’s some truth to this theory – but again it is not an explanation on its own for paradox. Still, it doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying some olive oil over the holidays, perhaps instead of butter. 

Try dipping freshly baked whole-grain bread into olive oil sprinkled with herbs and fresh pepper. It’s a simple treat for the bon vivant.

Quality over quantity
The French may indulge in many foods that some of us would consider harmful – but overall, they consume smaller portions and fewer calories. Rather than eating a large portion of brie they may just have a few bites.  This can be a great trend to emulate over the holidays – have a few bites of whatever you like, but don’t indulge in huge slices of pie or cookies the size of your hand. 

Give yourself permission to have a piece of that really good chocolate – but just have a small one. Serve bite-size desserts, and don’t overload the dinner dishes.

Dining with dignity
And finally, it may be that in their celebration of a meal as a ritual, the French have discovered how to balance the food experience with the body’s requirements.  The French tend to have long meals with several courses – but they don’t snack in between, and they take the time to enjoy them.  Warming the stomach with soup and then allowing you body time to tell you that it’s full helps to prevent overeating. It also helps to prevent the after-turkey lethargy.

So make your meals an experience rather than a mad rush, and you may begin to vous sentez bien dans votre peau – to feel good in your skin, or be comfortable with yourself.  And that’s really what a celebration is all about!