The French paradox: Secrets to creating balance

The French elevated cooking to a fine art and their techniques are considered the foundation of modern cooking. If you’ve ever tried haute cuisine, you might be shocked to discover just how much butter and cream is involved. It’s safe to say, you won’t find a heart-healthy icon next to a lobster bisque or an eggs Benedict on a menu.


The French diet includes high amounts of fat - saturated fat to be precise. What makes a delicious flaky croissant is the large quantity of butter added, which is a great example of saturated fat.

Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods like beef, pork, poultry, full-fat dairy products and eggs and tropical oils like palm, and coconut. Saturated fats might cause problems with your cholesterol levels, which can potentially increase your risk of heart disease.

Fat is a dense form of energy compared to carbohydrates and proteins. High-fat foods pack more calories into less space. Each gram of fat contains nine calories, protein and carbohydrates both contain four calories per gram. Adding large quantities of fat to your meals can rack up the calorie count drastically. High-calorie intake can cause you to gain weight.

What is fascinating about the French way of eating is that, despite the high intake of saturated fats, the French seem to have low levels of obesity and heart disease when compared to other nations with similar fat intake. In fact, the French have the lowest rate of heart disease in all of Europe.

This is known as the 'French paradox' and it has fascinated and baffled many health professionals around the world. 

So, how do the French manage to fend-off disease and stay in shape, despite a diet that would usually put most people at high risk of obesity and heart disease? Mireille Guiliano attempts to unlock the answers to the question above in her popular book French women don’t get fat. She shares pearls of wisdom from the French way of eating and living.

Here are the key takeaways that might help answer how the French guzzle down butter and cream, yet enjoy healthier lives than their neighbours. 

1. Quality over quantity

In her book, Guiliano argues that the French value quality over quantity. Rich food is to be devoured in small quantities. No supersized meals and no seconds.

It's pretty obvious the French have pride when it comes to food. They are much more stringent with what they allow into their food, they take pride in quality ingredients and see food as a real form of pleasure. They may enjoy lots of cream and butter-rich foods, but they do it in acceptable quantities at each sitting. 

2. No snacking

The French rarely snack between meals. You won’t find them with a large packet of crisps in front of the TV or see them eating protein bars while walking around. In the UK, we have convinced ourselves we must eat every couple of hours or risk metabolic shutdown. The French save their appetite for their delectable meals instead. 

3. No sitting around

Mireille Guiliano states one of the reasons why the French stay healthy despite high intakes of saturated fat, is that they take a walk after eating. Staying active after meals instead of sluggishly laying on the sofa might be one of the reasons the French stay in shape despite their cream and butter-laden meals. 

The French paradox continues to be a topic of interest for many scientists that are concerned with the worrying rates of obesity and heart disease adversely affecting other nations, such as the UK and the US. The key takeaways listed above might be just a few of many factors why the French enjoy culinary dishes high in saturated fats but stay in shape and fend-off heart disease

The delicate balance created by the French is one to be admired and lessons can be learnt from it. As the puzzling paradox gets investigated further, we will get more answers on how the French have mastered this delicate balance. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW15 & Notting Hill W11
Written by Iman Hassan, Nutritionist (BSc, ANutr)/Level 3 PT/Weight-Loss Specialist
London SW15 & Notting Hill W11

Written by, 

Iman Hassan (BSc, ANutr)

Registered Private Nutritionist/Weight Loss Specialist

My 3 step tailored weight loss and transformation programme is an antidote to dieting. I help clients from all around the world by providing them with the tools and knowledge to find their balance.

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