Are the French fat or not?

Time for another Kindle-related blog, I think. I Kindle every day. (Well, if Argos can be a verb, so can Kindle.) I’ve been downloading zillions of samples, and made a couple of purchases as a result. I made another accidental one, but managed to cancel that one in time. It’s rather easy – accidentally on purpose perhaps?! – to send the ‘buy’ command rather than the ‘download’ sample command.

Here are three food-related books with very ambitious claims that I’ve had a look at on my Kindle:

The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano

The French Don’t Diet Plan by Dr Will Clower

How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food by Chef Alain Braux

I don’t have a weight problem and my cholesterol is fine, but I still felt I should check these assertions out. Could they be true?

First up, the declaration that ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’. Actually, they do. Mireille Guiliano wrote her book in 2004, when generally people were a bit slimmer, but these days the French are fattening up at a frightening rate. Over a quarter of French women are now considered overweight, with 15.1% clinically obese. French men are worse – 38.5% are overweight, and 13.9% are obese. But why has this once famously slim nation put on weight? Well, French people are exercising less, eating more fast-food, and landing more service jobs where they sit at a desk rather than work in a factory or wrestle llamas for a living. Overall, 6.5 million French, 14.5% of the population, are now obese. And as in many countries, the rate is higher among poorer people. There are regional differences too: there are more fatties in the north of France with its heavy, rich food, and in the east, dangerously open to German influences with its meat-rich diet.

So the book is starting from a dubious standpoint. But the author is a likeable person. She admits at the beginning that her favourite pastimes are ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner’, and clearly comes from a food-obsessed family. She gives the usual advice – avoid snack food, eat a good breakfast, etc etc. But I lost interest in the book in the section on breakfast. The author went on for way too long about MBC – Magical Breakfast Cream, that is really a sort of homemade muesli. Her Tante Berthe invented it, and there is an awful lot about TB before we actually get to how to make MBC. A bit too family-based for me. And, not surprisingly, since Mme Guiliano sells the stuff, there’s a section in the book on why a little champagne is good for you too!

As for ‘The French Don’t Diet’ idea, for ages people thought the French could eat what they wanted – mainly fatty foods such as croissants, paté and crème brulée – but get away with it. And so long as they did so in moderation, well, they did. But these days, it seems, portions are getting bigger, and more snacking goes on. And the French are getting fatter as a result. But Clower happily ignores this and instead concentrates on ten steps, following French practices, to end up eating more healthily. These include avoiding ‘faux’ foods, i.e. processed foods with hidden fat and calories in them, spending more time enjoying your meal, and returning to the family table. It’s a little ironic that he’s recommending the very things the French are not doing so much any more. Clower also comes up with a claim that the French don’t take supplements. Hmm. These give every indication of being big business in every pharmacy and supermarket, where there are shelves and shelves of them. However, there’s plenty of interesting ideas in the book, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them all.

Finally Chef Braux on lowering cholesterol. He’s a Frenchman who trained as a chef in France but then went over the pond where he has had several businesses. His first solo venture in the States, Amandine French bakery and café sadly flopped. As he says wryly: alas, a good chef does not necessarily make a good businessman. He has since moved in a nutritherapist direction, and it’s these principles underlying this book. Nutritherapists work with food, and food only, to help their clients improve their health. Braux believes that most modern degenerative diseases are a result of bad basic nutrition. And he’s probably right. So his book is a practical guide – a nutrition/cookbook hybrid. And he knows what he’s talking about. He lowered his own cholesterol by 35 points in the space of a year.

There are a lot of similarities with the other two books in the form of the apparent fundamental underlying paradox that French cooking is actually healthy, and there are tips on avoiding junk food and taking more time over meals. His recipes are based on healthy food preparation methods such as blanching, poaching and stir frying. No deep frying here. Or microwaving. Microwave ovens shouldn’t be allowed, says Braux!

All three books have slightly eccentric viewpoints but give an interesting take on French cuisine, and the idea of healthy eating is one it’s foolish to ignore. Plenty of food for thought in each one. (And check out my earlier blog post on David Lebovitz’ cookery book.)

(The books are available in non-Kindle format too. But go on, treat yourself to a Kindle. You’ll love it!)

0 Replies to “Are the French fat or not?”

  1. You’ve coined a new verb there – to Kindle.

    The French have definitely got fatter during our 14 years here (not that the two things are related, I hope). Most of the adults round here – with a few notable exceptions – are still reasonably slim. What worries me is that you see an awful lot of obese children and their numbers are certainly on the increase. Interestingly, though, the range of sweets and snacks available at newsagents is much more limited than in the UK. When it comes to supermarkets, however, there are shelves full of junk food. And most people shop at supermarkets these days…

    1. Apparently Sarkozy has recognised the problem of child obesity and is doing something about it. Not sure what though. However, a couple of years ago primary school children were told they could not bring snacks to school for mid-morning or mid-afternoon break, which caused an outrage in our school! A lot of children have a very early breakfast before getting the slow school bus and need a quick boost at ten or eleven and again at about three or four. French children don’t eat till late. We have our tea as soon as Rors comes home, but other children have to wait till 7 or so. Kids can only go so long without needing something to raise their blood sugar. But it’s up to the parents to provide them with healthy food to have, and supermarkets really shouldn’t have so much tempting stuff on display at child level. It’s a real problem that isn’t going to go away on its own.

  2. I read Guiliano’s first book and really enjoyed it–she’s very likable. I think the accessibility of cheap, plentiful, fast food is getting to everyone. When we were in China, I noticed quite a bit of chubbiness. Especially in the lines at McDonald’s! (We only did that once or twice. Honest.) And by the way, I swear I wrote my blog post today on weight control before I read this. We must be on the same wave-length!

    1. I enjoyed your blog. As you say, we’re interested in similar things. This time of year is when you notice jeans getting tight after long cold winter nights keeping you indoors so much. Like you, I take action when the weight starts to creep on! However, I’m a self-confessed exercise junkie. Not so good with the healthy diet bit!

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