The French Paradox
Every day, we humans add to our vast knowledge, experience, and abilities. For example, we can see a single atom with a microscope, use our cell phones to watch the latest music video or plan our day according to a super accurate weather forecast. We even know all about black holes. What are those? They are massive objects in space that scientists cannot see, but we know (somehow???) they have unusual properties.
I wanted to explore one aspect of modern life that has been thoroughly studied since the first caveman’s girlfriend said, “You’re fat. I’m going to find a tinner caveman to date.”
Today, we have food pyramids, diet books, calorie counters, phone dieting apps, smart scales, nutrition consultants, diet coaches, diet foods, Paleo diets, dash diets, gluten-free foods, intermittent fasting, vegetarian options, spin classes, w3atches that count how many steps we have taken, and fitness clubs. It is all right there. Follow plan X to have a fit, thin, and healthy life. GUARNTEED or your money back. Yay!
What is plan X? Eat low-fat foods, avoid carbohydrates, add vegetables, thoroughly chew your food, exercise daily, eat lots of vitamins, see your doctor, hire a fitness coach, avoid meat, and stay far away from gluten. Yes, plan X works 100% of the time! No exceptions.
Well, there is one tiny exception. By the known standards of modern medicine, having a French lifestyle and eating French food is a sure plan for a dreadful life and an early grave. What do the French eat? Cheese, wine, butter, sausage, fats, heavy sauces, and gluten-packed bread. Their lifestyle? They exercise, but not to excess.
Yet, the French population has above-average fitness, happiness, and lifespan levels. What is going on? Despite years of study, scientists, nutritionists, fitness experts, and doctors do not know. Well, it must be one of two things. Either our medical knowledge is wrong, or the entire population of France is fooling the medical experts.
Is the problem really that black and white? This exception is not a rounding error, oversight, or optical illusion. The nation of Frace does not follow the accepted medical guidelines, yet paradoxically, they are mentally and physically healthy. As further proof, I have been to France and witnessed their happy attitudes, fit bodies, and eating habits.
Well, what does this mean? Should we throw away our diet books, exclusively eat French food and adopt a French lifestyle to improve our health? That is where things get interesting. In 1991, Serge Renaud, a scientist from Bordeaux University, presented a paper that coined the phrase. Since 1991, many studies have defended traditional medicine while attempting to debunk the French Paradox. It seems that the medical establishment is working hard to come out on top of this debate. They feel the French Paradox is an illusion.
Yet… As I have stated, I have been to France and seen their healthy people. So, what do I think is going on? Of course, my opinion differs from that of professionals, scientists, and diet coaches. I live in California, and we are known for our excellent wine and cheese. I have also purchased French wines and cheeses in California. To me, they taste no different. However, the food in France was vastly different.
Every evening, we made a ritual of going to a liquor store to purchase a bottle of wine (chosen only by the label decorations), to the cheese store to buy a selection, and to the bakery to purchase a baguette. This was a heavenly experience, and the food disappeared quickly. During the day, we went to the local restaurants, and while the portion sizes were small, the food was tasty. Wine with dinner? It was less expensive than soda. We walked around Paris and went to the museums for the rest of the day.
France has a reputation for mean people, but I never encountered one. They were all friendly and had a relaxed lifestyle. Yet there was more to them. It was as if they had figured out something that the rest of the world had missed. Their take on life was more evolved, open-minded, and centered.
Our trip ended with us feeling great and a little thinner. I recommend you go to France and experience their exceptional food and culture. Yet, I have not explained my theory. In engineering, there is what we call an onion problem. The idea is that multiple interacting issues are causing a failure, and the engineer must isolate each one. I think the French Paradox is this exact type of issue.
Why is the wine, cheese, and bread better in France? California law and shopping preference require preservatives to maintain shelf life and save us from something… Preservatives adversely affect flavor and hinder our health. France does not have high preservative levels, so the food tastes better and is healthier.
My theory is that people like good-tasting and healthy food. When our bodies get quality food, they do not have to gorge on junk food. I rarely saw them eating fast/junk food as we traveled.
The second part of my theory is that a positive attitude affects fitness, health, and diet. A nervous person is more likely to eat and have poor health. In France, they let things slide. Plus, a small amount of red wine calms nerves.
Also, the attitude of a nation is not a trait that comes from diet, exercise, psychology, or medical books. Therefore, the pleasant French outlook is big to study, categorize, or appreciate. French paradox is an extensive interconnecting set of parameters that cannot be categorized or replicated outside their borders.
Yet, there is a big problem with my explanation. The French population has low cholesterol levels. Cheese, bread, butter, and heavy sauces contribute to high cholesterol. So, what is going on? Is it the wine? Maybe, but probably not. So, please ignore my entire theory.
And this is my point. Even with all the information available, I do not know what is happening, nor does everybody else. I use the French Paradox to remind myself that I do not know everything. The paradox rattles around in my bonkers mind to keep me grounded, asking questions and acting less arrogant. But… I wish thinking about the French Paradox could help eliminate my gut.

You’re the best -Bill
April 04, 2024
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