samedi 29 janvier 2011


French Paradox: an additional piece: Slowly digested or Undigested Carbohydrates.

Another Piece of the French Paradox: Why French are not fat or have higher Cardiovascular Diseases.

Most people working in the Medical Field especially in the field of Obesity or suffering from it have heard of the French Paradox. The French have less Heart Disease than the Americans, in fact roughly half the amount. But the French Diet is rich in Saturated Fats. In 1991 it was postulated that it might be due to the fact that the French tend to drink with their meals, and a rush of wine drinking followed around the world (among the educated classes in the poorer countries).

It has been polemic and Low Fat diet has not been shown to be as good as Mediterranean diet or a Low Carbohydrate Diet in studies from USA and Israel among others.

All studies measure Quantifiable things: the amount of Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat, Cholesterol, Calories etc. but very seldom any mention of the Quality of the Food.

Having lived in both United States and France, I can tell you that Qualitatively the French Food is far superior to that of American food, that which is available to the public in most places. There are pockets in the USA where qualitatively good food can be obtained but they are few and far between.

Otherwise how would explain the Quantity of “Bad” Ingredients eaten by the French and their Lower Cardiovascular Disease rates?

The average French person consumed 108 grams per day of fat from animal sources in 2002 while the average American consumed only 72. The French eat four times as much butter, 60 percent more cheese and nearly three times as much pork compared to the Americans. Although the French consume only slightly more total fat (171 g/d vs. 157 g/d), they consume much more saturated fat because Americans consume a much larger proportion of fat in the form of vegetable oil, with most of that being soybean oil. Also in USA, there is widespread use of Palm Oil and Corn based products.

I repeatedly tell my students in Medical Fields in the USA: take a loaf of bread there and put in the fridge or freezer and it will stay edible for weeks to come. When you visit American families, you see loaves of bread in their plastic covers lying about. What gives them the longevity that is denied to the French Baguette?

I eat nearly one half to three quarters of a normal baguette per day while I am in France. I have to buy baguettes every day, as by the next morning, the baguette is nearly inedible, harder and less tasty.

The French baguette contains much less of the preservatives and chemicals that adorns their new world cousin, the humble American Loaf.

I have always asked myself the question, why do they add High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is an artificial sweetener to their bread?

As an anthropologist, I have observed when visiting French Families in Paris and in the countryside, the lunch and dinner times are accorded a certain respect. Food is prepared from fresh ingredients (daily visits to the market for Mussels, Fish, Scallops or Langoustines in the seaside and daily visit to the store to buy fresh produce in Paris) and a certain order of eating is observed. Plus they sit down to eat and eat slowly and there is conversation over dinner and there is an atmosphere of relaxation. There is always wine and an occasional Champagne.

Nutritional Scientists have suggested that Quality of Fats may be protecting the French, even if they are eating much more Saturated Fats, 80 per cent of their fat intake comes from Dairy and vegetable sources, including whole milk, cheeses and whole milk yoghurt.

Definitely the French eat much more fish (at least three times a week. When I am in Paris, I have some fish every day, even if it is just smoked salmon to eat with my baguette with a wedge of Comte cheese thrown in). Eating more courses of smaller amount seems to be the trend in France

Low Calorie and Low Fat foods have not caught on in France, since they have higher concentrations of Sugar.

I travel once a month between USA and the countries of my other residence. At the airport one notices, apart from the obvious obesity, that most people are either eating or drinking or something that has to do with their hands and mouth. At CDG international airport, you very rarely see snacking French. And this pattern is seen throughout where snacking is not part of the custom.

As part of my work, I have to visit some rural townships where the Native Americans live. Looking at what is stocked at the local stores, it is obvious that over 95 % of the items in those stores are unhealthy, tinned and pre prepared and heavily chemicalized and preserved food form the majority. The Health of American Indians, for more reasons than just Nutrition alone I would guess, is one of the poorest among all inhabitants of the Developed Nations (in this they have the company of Australian Aborigines).

Some years ago I came across an easy read: French Women Don't Get Fat and I think there was a follow up book as well.

Mrs. Guiliano who had to leave her native France to come and live in the USA, noticed that, the French women who were much slimmer than the American ones, ate smaller portions, smaller amounts of high quality food rather than obscene amounts of All you can Eat, Low quality Food, lack of snacking in between meals, eating when hungry. Drinking fluids in the form of water, soups, herbal teas of various concoctions.

As an Anthropologist, I must stress that the French take time with their food, very seldom have I seen what I observe in America, huge TV screens dominate the scene and various people are in various poses scattered around the room, sharing food and occasional conversation while the TV blares on. French sit down, including in places like La Defense in Paris where there are hundreds of corporate workers, but at lunch time you see hundreds and hundreds of well attired, in suits and formal clothes, men and women trooping out of the tall buildings and sitting down to have their lunches.

I tell my patients who say that they don't have enough time to eat: If you don't have time to eat, don't eat! Eating while you are on the phone as well as your computer while listening to a colleague complaining is not an ideal Lunch. At this moment, all your predatory hormones which create insulin resistance, such as Cortisol are being cranked out by your stressful situation and eating anything, good or bad, will be stored away as energy. The chances are that such a person is not eating Broiled Chicken Breast with Honey Mustard Sauce from the Health store, more like a Burger and Fries from McDo!

I have never liked to eat while standing up and I never see the French do it. I am writing this while I am in France and in the past few days my food has consisted of:

Baguettes, obviously. Various Cheeses, at least twice a day, smoked salmon, freshly prepared potage, homemade guacamole, Noodle Soups, Shrimp, Salmon, Brick of Tuna, Couscous of Chicken prepared fresh over fire at a Moroccan Take Away, Surimi Salad, Glasses of Wine with every dinner, ( I don't like to drink at Lunch), always sitting down to eat, always conversation of some sort of another, always enjoying the pleasure of eating and as American Indians have taught me, always grateful for the life accorded to me. I buy fresh vegetable and fruits on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the open-air markets nearby. Most of the fruits and vegetables are grown in France or Spain with the exception of non-native fruits such as Bananas from French islands in the Caribbean and Litchis from Madagascar that are plentiful now. I avoid the Chinese take Away food countes called Traiteur Asiatique in France, as their food do not appear fresh. Cheap food in France is very suspect.

All these thoughts were floating on my mind after reading a medical item from yesterday.

A study by researchers at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center for Human Nutrition shows that resistant starch food may help people lose weight.

According to Health News, the study was based on 4,451 participants. The researchers found that the slimmest people ate the most carbohydrates, while the heaviest ones ate the least. Also, the specific sorts of carbohydrates eaten made a difference between wide and trim waistlines.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) support eating starch resistant food. Bananas, potatoes, pasta, whole grain bread, oatmeal, barley, and brown rice are typical examples.

The logic behind the magic of starch resistant food is that regular starch foods gets digested quickly in the small intestine and are converted into short-term energy, which, if it is not needed immediately, is stored as fat.

Resistant starch food, on the other hand, is digested through fermentation in the large intestine and converted into energy for the body more slowly. Resistant starch food stays in the body for a longer time, making people feel fuller for longer. This increase in feeling satiated also contributes to a reduction in the overall amount of calories taken in daily.

So yet another clue to the French Paradox: slowly digested carbohydrates, smaller portion of fat laden food but more importantly Food eaten with reverence and leisure and with gusto. An occasional piece of chocolat Noir..

Let us raise our glasses and shout

Vive La France!

featured posts


CUBA IS THE FUTURE FOR LATIN AMERICA AND PERHAPS THE WORLD On my way out of Cuba, from La Habana, on COPA airlines flight to Panama, I w...