Have you ever heard of the "French Paradox?" No, it is not an action thriller movie. It is the fact that the French, despite their creamy high fat diet, cigarette smoking and wine consumption, have a considerably lower risk of heart disease and obesity than people in many other countries. Even though it seems on the surface that the French are doing everything wrong, a little investigation shows that they are doing everything right (except for the smoking part).
The French diet, while high in fat, is mostly made up of healthy fats. Dairy and vegetable fat, as well as fat from fish, make up a major portion of the fat French citizens consume. The French also eat little to no trans fats, which are the fats that come from hydrogenated oils (the majority of fats consumed in the USA). Trans fats cause heart disease. The French also eat less sugar, more fish, and snack less than people of other countries. They eat smaller portions of food and eat their food more slowly, allowing for proper digestion. The French drink plenty of water and eat more mindfully.
In addition, the French sit and relax while eating, instead of multi-tasking (as commonly seen in American culture). Also, Central and Southern France have a climate of warmer weather. The comfortable temperatures allow the French to enjoy outdoor activities such as sports and exercise.
Another factor in France's overall low levels of heart disease may be the red grape. Red grapes contain high levels of the antioxidant resveratrol. Resveratrol has been shown in studies to lower the incidence of cancer and heart disease. Some suggest that the French predisposition for drinking red wine may contribute to the "French Paradox."
While resveratrol is contained in red wine, studies have shown that red wine contains low levels of resveratrol. The wine may be a factor in decreased heart disease because of two other ingredients, procyanidins and polyphenols. Researchers feel that these two ingredients provide human blood vessel cells high levels of protection. Researchers have also found that consuming 200-300 mg of these nutrients can help to lower blood pressure.
Interestingly enough, a Red Delicious apple contains 200mg of polyphenols and procyanidins. And, before you start jugging bottles of wine, procyanidins and polyphenols are found in the highest concentrations in European red wines (mostly in wines from southern France) due to the Tannat grape, which is indigenous to that area. Unfortunately, the Tannat grape is usually not found in American, Australian or other wines. Also, you must note that drinking more than 2 small glasses of wine (4-5 ounces) each day can negate the health benefits of drinking the wine.
After careful investigation, the "French Paradox" isn't actually a paradox. It is the result of smart dietary choices. Eat healthy fats, drink plenty of water, eat less, eat foods high in antioxidants, get plenty of exercise and relax while you are eating. Sounds like a smart way to be healthy and happy if you ask us!
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