What About those French Women?

I have to come clean. I haven't read that book about why French women don't get fat. And I haven't been to France since I was a young teenager, so I'm not even sure it is true. But IF French women don't get fat, I think I have a small clue why not.

Just yesterday a Facebook friend sent me an article about the newest "disease" called orthorexia. People with this condition eliminate whole categories of food from their diets. It may be for religious or spiritual reasons, to lose weight, or just because they believe those foods to be unhealthy. In the extreme, sufferers might end up eating nothing but fruit and vegetables. And this would NOT serve them well.

Around the globe, native peoples and tribes have followed extremely varied diets depending on their environments. The Masai (in the Kalahari) eat a healthy diet composed mainly of cow's blood. The Inuit eat a healthy diet of whale and seal blubber. People who have very limited access to fruits and vegetables have survived for eons despite this lack of plants in their diet. (It is important to note there is not a single native population anywhere in the world who consume a vegan diet. If there ever was, they are now extinct due to the fact that a vegan diet will not support human life.) My point here is that human beings are highly adaptable and can thrive on MANY different types of diets.

However, here in America, we have gotten screwed royally. Instead of relying on the wisdom of our grandparents or their grandparents who brought their cultural traditions, including dietary rules and customs, to this country, we have turned to the "experts" to help us decide what and how to eat. And this has been our downfall. When the government decided to get involved in telling people what to eat and how much of it, the obesity epidemic was born. Suddenly saturated fat was the enemy and margarine was the answer. Today we know that the trans-fats in margarine and all solid vegetable shortenings are much more dangerous than the saturated fats we feared and avoided. Because American farmers were paid to grow TONS of corn, wheat, and soy, we have been bombarded with these foods in every shape and form. I'm not sure who decided this was a "healthy" way to eat.

If French women do not get fat, I believe it is because they still adhere to the cultural customs and traditions surrounding food that have served their ancestors well for thousands of years. Yes, they tend to eat small portions. They eat a wide variety of foods from all food groups, including all types of meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy, fruits, veggies, and grains. There is a very strong cultural tradition of savoring and enjoying the food. The focus is more on quality than quantity. Nothing is forbidden, but nothing is eaten to excess. Markets are everywhere and there is an emphasis on fresh, local food. Meals are chosen, cooked and eaten slowly, for maximum satisfaction. If you suggested that their goose liver pate or their rich, ripe Brie was unhealthy, they might laugh at the notion. (And these foods have been shown to contain Vitamin K2!) There is much to be said for eating according to your culture.

And there is no reason that we Americans need to deprive ourselves of our food heritage. We all come from somewhere. We all have (or had) grandparents who cooked the foods of our culture. Whether your grandmother made tomato sauce from Italy or borscht from Russia or collard greens from the South, you can succeed in putting together a healthy diet based on your family history. You just need to dig a little bit further back in that history, before fast food and convenience food began to dominate our diets.

You don't have to be French. Just follow in the footsteps of your own ancestors. Many roads lead to health.

NOTE: For more information and in-depth analysis of the American diet, please refer to the works of Michael Pollan.