This weekend I hosted guests inside my home from Bordeaux, France and Sao Paulo, Brazil. As always I love taking advantage of the time with international guests to learn about their culture, lifestyles and ESPECIALLY the foods they like to eat. I had breakfast each morning with these guests and what I saw them eat might surprise you, it sure surprised me! In this post, I’ll just discuss my French visitors.
After spending time in Nutrition classes we would always talk about the French paradox which is a catchphrase that was first used in the 80s and 90s describing the diet of the French people and how it is soooo (so, so very) rich in saturated fats and yet France has a very LOW incident of heart disease. Many have tried to characterize, reason, explain away the low incidence of heart disease with other cultural factors. My favorite explanations include that their lifestyles include much more time spent walking. They walk after meals, and our view of Parisians is that they walk everywhere all the time. I would argue this is becoming less true as we become more of a digital world (and not all French people live in Paris). My other favorite explanation is the rich amount of red wine they consume (I’ll take any additional reasons to consume some more red wine). This says nothing of genetics, and the countless other explanations.
Some figures that I find astonishing is that French people eat 4 times as much butter as Americans, 60% more cheese and nearly 3 times the pork. Are you ready to move to France? Adopt this diet and have less of a chance to develop heart disease? It must be something in the water right?!
Perhaps some day I will dissect my thoughts publicly for you regarding the French paradox, but I am going to get back to the point of this post, which is to share my surprise at what MY French visitors were choosing to eat this weekend.
I expected them to choose my freshly brewed, piping hot, very organic coffee. No, they brewed some earl grey tea. I expected them to have some cheese I offered and whole wheat bread, no again. They both ate about 6 of these cookies.
I then offered them some fresh nectarines, which they both graciously accepted. This was very odd to me. Of course I had no piping hot and buttery croissants to offer, or fresh baguettes. Maybe this isn’t fair, maybe it is just vacation, I thought. So I asked, what do you normally eat for breakfast? “Sweet biscuits” came the reply. Who am I to judge, they both were a very healthy weight and appeared to be quite healthy. However, if I were to consume the breakfast I watched them eat, the cookies, the tea, the fresh fruit, with no protein I would crash and burn HARD. It wouldn't take much time either.
A French couple that visited a few weeks ago shared with my husband and I that they eat out almost every meal, and make a weekly point to go to McDonalds on Sundays for dinner when they head to the cinema. Again, this surprised me. They also made a point to visit in and out burger twice while they were visiting.
I believe there is room for foods in moderation that make you happy even if they aren’t the best choice for you to incorporate EVERY DAY. But, please don’t take this post as giving license to eat 6 cookies for breakfast every day.
Both sets of French visitors stated that they eat fruit and vegetables in moderation, a lot of cheese, some bread, and a lot of fish and meat. They all enjoy good wine, how could you not when living in Bordeaux? They all kind of laughed at their diet choices after they found out I was a Dietitian. And this post will not give you much confidence in supporting my next claim, which is: I really don't sit judging what other people eat. And you definitely don't need to feel like you have to confess what you ate for breakfast or dessert last night when you see me next. However, I did find it interesting how all these food choices were very different than what I had thought and what I had been taught regarding French lifestyle.
As always if you are in need of help with your eating habits or that of your families, please contact me, I would love to help. For now, Bon Appetit.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
218 W. Carmen Lane, Suite 108
Santa Maria, California 93458
Hours: Mon-Fri 9-5 PST