Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

With a nod to Suze’s post on Monday asking why French women don’t get fat, I think there are several reasons that the author, Mireille Guiliano, didn’t see because she’s, well, French. Having been to France several times and lost weight despite eating very, very well, (thank you, Viking) I have a few ideas.

French Food is Local

French village, farmland, fresh food, French women

French village surround by fields

I have cruised up and down several of France’s rivers with Viking, walked through French towns, driven through the countryside on buses and looked down on it from my airplane seat. It appears that every kilometre of France that is not occupied by roads, towns, cities, and railroads is given over to farmland.

Fish market, Bordeaux, French food, fresh fish

Fresh fish at the market
in Bordeaux

The fields roll out around you in bright green, yellow, purple and tan. Bees buzz among the flowers while cows and sheep graze placidly in lush fields. Land that isn’t fertile enough for cultivation or too steep for farm equipment is given over to vineyards. Grapes like dry, flinty soil so they do well on the leftover land.

Local wineries, cheesemakers, bakers, butchers and other artisanal shops turn all that bounty into local cheese, butter, honey, sausage, wine, and bread.

The food you eat in France does not come from huge agribusiness farms or food processing operations. It comes from the countryside or the sea. I know, I know. You’re protesting that we have farmland here in the U.S. You can drive through Iowa or Indiana for hours without seeing anything else. Don’t forget, though, France is about the size of Texas, so getting local food is easier.

French Food is Authentic

As a member of the European Union (EU), France follows its rules and regulations on food.

  • French bread is free of potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide (ADA), additives found in most commercial American bread and baked goods that have been found to cause cancer.
  • The food in France does not contain BHA and BHT, “flavor enhancers” that have also been deemed carcinogenic.
  • Citrus beverages contain no brominated vegetable oil (BVO), that was originally patented as flame retardants. BVO adds citrus flavor but can build up in the system body and potentially affect memory, skin, and nerves.
  • In France, you probably won’t consume red dye no. 40, blue dye no. 1 or yellow dye no. 5 and no. 6, which are added to many US foods. The EU didn’t ban these artificial coloring agents but did mandate a warning label about, “an adverse effect on activity and attention in children,”
  • French cattle, turkey and pigs cannot be fattened with drugs like ractopamine or growth hormones because the EU says, “risks to human health cannot be ruled out.”
  • French chickens don’t get plumped up with feed that has been laced with arsenic. Do I really have explain why eating arsenic is bad for you?
  • More than half the 28 countries in the European Union, including France, ban their farmers from growing genetically modified crops. So, no Roundup Ready corn for them.
French fields, farmland, French food, local food, artisanal food

French fields from Viking Rinda

Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, have been approved for use in food and beverages (although not dietetic baked goods) but that decision is being challenged.

Simply put, the food you eat in France doesn’t include artificial substances that have bad effects on the human body. It’s clean and nutritious. Also, delicious.

Small and Simple Meals

When it comes to food, U.S. restaurants typically substitute quantity for quality. Plates arrive piled with food, often fried and accompanied by sticky-sweet sauces made in bulk. In France, you get reasonable portions that balance protein, carbs, and veggies with delicious sauces made right in the kitchen.

burger, fries, beer, American food, huge portions, French women

A classic American burger and fries

If a restaurant exists in France that serves plates overflowing with fries, it probably caters to Americans looking for something familiar. You won’t see French people stuffing themselves with fried food and you won’t need a doggie bag to take home the second half of your meal that you couldn’t finish in one sitting.

Neither will you see French women drinking containers of soda big enough to bathe in. For the most part, they drink coffee, tea, wine and mineral water. None of these contain artificial sweeteners. Yes, you can get Diet Coke in France but that doesn’t mean French women guzzle it by the liter.

And Then There’s Exercise

I might have titled this post, “Why American Women Get Fat,” because that’s the flip side of the dietary differences between countries.  But wait, there’s more.

Viviers, France, downhill, narrow street

Looking downhill in the town of Viviers

French women—and Europeans in general—walk a lot more than Americans do. They walk to their jobs, local markets, shops, churches, the post office, the bakery for a daily baguette, the bar for an aperitif—anywhere.

Europe also has excellent public transportation, so it’s easier to walk from home to the tram stop where a smooth, clean quiet tram takes them where they need to go. For longer trips in France, there are the TGV super-fast trains.

Watch farmland go past on the TGV from Lyon to Paris

Yes, there are cars in Europe, and the traffic jams that go with them, but gasoline is sold by the liter and it’s much more expensive there than here. Walking and public transportation are cheaper, easier and often faster.

Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

French women don’t get fat because they eat less, they eat better, fresher foods, they don’t put chemical additives in their food, and they walk more. It’s a pretty simple formula.

Maybe Americans should try it sometime.

This entry was posted in Food and Cooking, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , by Aline Kaplan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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