The French Paradox – a bikini body on cheese, fois gras & red wine

Helen shopping at Nice market

Nutrition for health | September 29, 2015 | By

I spent the weekend just gone slightly in awe of delicately framed French women savouring traditional rich French cuisine. The French Paradox that struck me here was not so much the lack of heart disease in a country consuming foods so loaded with saturated fats, but the lack of pot belly. How do these ladies maintain a bikini body on a diet full of cheese, fois gras and red wine?

As with all dietary studies there are confounding factors. It’s not just diet that plays a role in attainment of a perfect bikini body but also exercise, genes, socio-economic status etc. However my own personal observational study of the plates of these lean women in question drew parallels with existing research and theories already reported:

1. Mindful eating. The French take time out to eat. A 35 hr week allows time for a leisurely lunch break to sit down in a cafe and eat a proper balanced meal with friends. Each mouthful is chewed, savoured and acknowledged and so more satiating than a sandwich eaten whilst answering e-mails at the work computer (more in ‘Todays Dietitian’).

2. More fruit and vegetables. Yes, it will come as no surprise to anyone that has visited France that the French consume more fruit and veg per capita than British or Americans (report). Any serving of cheese, fois gras or steak comes with a mountain of salad and vegetables, and local markets are always full of people shopping for fresh fruit and veg.

3. The 50% rule. The portions are not all huge, and if they are they are not always finished. Leaving yourself just 80% full at the end of a meal, or only asking for a half portion to start with is common in France (there are several books on this point alone).

4. Cook from scratch. Convenience foods are much less common in France. Just Eat Real Food, hashtag JERF is certainly not a new concept but just a way of life to majority of those on the continent.

So there is a way to enjoy rich high calorie foods as part of a diet that will keep you slim and healthy. Eat them mindfully, not too much, and alongside all the other healthy fruits, vegetables, fish and wholegrains we know we should be eating. I’ve incorporated all those principles into my fig, stilton and chicory cheese course ‘recipe’ here. Eating this after exercise will provide you with 17g protein for recovery and the natural sugar from the figs makes up the ideal 4:1 ratio carbs: protein to ensure your glycogen stores are replenished efficiently. Exercise boosts your healthy HDL cholesterol production, and so post exercise is the best time to eat this as the HDL will ferry away the bad LDL to the liver to be metabolised. Bon appetit!

Figs Stilton & Chicory cheese course
Yields 2
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Ingredients
  1. 5 large ripe figs
  2. 2 heads of chicory (endive)
  3. 100g stilton
Instructions
  1. Eat the fig flesh and cheese with the chicory leaves as if they were crackers
Nom Nom Nerd http://www.nomnomnerd.com/

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 228g serving %RI
Energy kJ 974 11% 2216 26%
Energy kcal 232 11% 529 26%
Fat 8.7g 12% 19.8g 28% Med
Saturated Fat 5.1g 25% 11.6g 58% High
Total Sugars 28g 31% 64g 71% High
Salt 0.5g 8% 1.2g 20% Med
Protein 7.3g __ 16.6g