The Real French Paradox: Why are the French So Much Healthier? | The Hart of Health Podcast
Hi, everyone, on today’s podcast, we’re talking about the real French paradox.
Hmm. Hopefully, we can enlighten you guys into what we think the real cause of this paradox is.
Yeah, if you haven’t heard of it before, the French paradox is a term that was created in 1980 by French scientists who published a paper in which they stated that people in France have quite low levels of coronary heart disease, despite the fact that they tend to eat a lot of saturated fat. And, you know, the world’s been told that saturated fat is bad for you. So people couldn’t understand why, despite eating a lot of saturated fat, the French are generally healthy. And yeah, that triggered a lot of further investigations and theories of why, despite saturated fat, were they so healthy?
Yeah. So people sort of tried to distract from the fact so they were like: “Oh, the French drink a lot of wine. And so maybe there’s something in wine” and that got to the whole resveratrol thing. And like yeah, it’s not saying that I know that there are definitely no benefits to taking resveratrol. But I don’t think that that is the reason why you see such a huge drop, compared to the rest of Europe, in France, when it comes to diabetes and heart disease and Alzheimer’s and basically anything that’s metabolic-related, it is lower in France. And the thing that sort of stands out to me the most is that the French were unwilling to adopt these new hyper-processed seed oils as a source of fat. And they stuck to their guns, and they stayed with butter, and tallow and cheese, and they didn’t cave to pressure like a lot of other countries. And they decided, like, you know, “screw you guys, we’re going to stick with a saturated fat and not go for this new fancy, low saturated fat oils”. Yeah. And they are now reaping the rewards by being much healthier than the average country.
Yeah, like the French paradox is actually stupid. Because the French people, I believe, aren’t healthy despite their saturated fat intake. I think they’re healthy because of their saturated fat intake. And because they stuck to, you know, proper high-quality sources, like fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese, as we’ve mentioned,
Yeah, they placed an emphasis on quality. And they were sort of looking at the English or the Americans and being like “Oh, you stupid Americans, you are sacrificing the flavor of you know, cooking your potato or whatever in beef tallow versus now sort of using canola oil. Yeah, no, we French are going to stick to the high-quality thing that tastes the best. We don’t care what you say about the health concerns, we’re going to stick to the best.” And by doing so, they’ve actually probably kept their health because of that kind of thinking.
Yes. And, you know, the whole French paradox and people trying to find other reasons like maybe it’s the resveratrol in the red wine or the way they eat (We’ll get into that now), but now, so many people around the world are drinking red wine every night because they think they’re going to protect their hearts. And meanwhile, these are people who are on low-fat diets, you know, because saturated fats are bad for you, or they stick to the vegetable oils. So now they’re drinking red wine by the bottle, thinking they’re gonna save their heart but they’re on a diet that’s actually bad for their hearts.
Yeah, and the wine every night, it’s not helping in any way, shape or form. And yeah, so like you said, we’re gonna talk about how much they eat. So then people are like: “oh, yeah, but the French, you know, they only eat small portions. And, you know, they’re very like conscious of what they eat. And I’m like, if you stick as a culture to saturated fat, it’s much more likely that you’ll develop a culture of eating smaller portions, and not being overindulgent. Why? Because saturated fat is the most satiating. Yes, so you will feel satisfied after eating a small portion of something with a lot of saturated fat, but with eating something that’s deep-fried in canola oil, you’re never going to sort of be satisfied by it. Because your body’s kind of cueing you to keep eating to find something that’s missing.
Yes. So yeah, eating smaller portions is one of the reasons that people give for the French Paradox and why they’re so healthy. Another one is they eat more fish. I love how people always want to act like red meat is bad. “It’s because they eat fish, you know.”
But that’s the thing like, then people also say that TMAO is bad for you. If you don’t know what TMAO is, you can look it up because we won’t describe that in this podcast. But a lot of people are now associating TMAO with bad heart conditions. And the highest source of TMAO is in fish. So it’s very weird to hear people sort of citing the reason why they could be healthy is that they had fish. But then also say that TMAO is a problem.
Yeah, like how many people who have heart problems are told to stay away from red meat, and eat things like fish. And you know, that’s the thing, we sometimes get on our social media people commenting on how bad the red meat is for hearts, and it’s just stupid. Another reason people list is that they don’t snack between meals as much. You know, like people in America, even here in South Africa, eat on the go, you know, eating their cars, they’ll eat while walking, where French people will often sit down for proper meals more. So that’s one thing I’ve always heard: one of the reasons why and the French paradox is they sit down, they enjoy their food, they take their time, and they’re also more social around meals. So they almost have better social relationships. I think they even take like two-hour lunches in France, so people have more time to enjoy their food without being rushed because they have to get back to their desks.
Yeah, like that’s obviously a cultural aspect that has a certain factor. But it’s funny that that’s still filled into the same thing. You won’t want to snack. Yeah, if you’re eating a very satiating meal like if I have a nice cut of steak with a good deal of fat, saturated fat, I’ll eat that. And I’ll be good for the next four or five hours and not even think about wanting a snack. Yeah. And so, if you’re not in France, and you’re eating a proper French meal, which is like a steak with butter and croutons on the side, or whatever, you know, like you eat that, you’re satisfied, you don’t eat anything else. You wait until the next meal.
Yeah, so many articles that I’ve read, giving you diet tips to be more like the French, they don’t tell you to eat more saturated fat, because obviously, the French paradox is that they have less heart disease despite their saturated fat intake. But all our articles would say like “if you want to be more like the French, sit down and enjoy your meals, have smaller portions, have some red wine with your dinner, don’t snack.” But the thing is, if you’re gonna do that on a like a carb-based diet, or even worse, like a vegan diet or a low-fat diet, even a low-fat diet and you don’t have that saturated fats, you don’t have satiating foods, then you’re going to struggle with that lifestyle. Like if you really want to be like the French, skip the plant-based spreads and margarine and vegetable oils, have the real butter, have the tallow, have fatty cuts of meat, choose high-quality ingredients and then add in all the other things like no snacking, sit down, enjoy your food. It’s not like we’re saying those things aren’t important, they are, but we really think that the saturated fat intake is the biggest reason why they’re so healthy,
I feel like saturated fat is why they do that naturally. Like, it’s not difficult for them to do it that way. It’s not like there’s a huge amount of pressure. And every French person is secretly wishing they could be snacking. They’re getting enough in their meal that they don’t have the desire to snack. So it doesn’t become like part of the culture. Yes, as soon as fast food and McDonald’s and KFC and all those chains start infiltrating France, you’re going to see a turn in the culture and things are going to start changing. But then you’re going to also notice that their health is going to start declining because as soon as they start eating in that way, and eating those super cheap, refined foods, they’re going to start suffering the same consequences. And that’s like you’ve said so many times now, despite their saturated fat intake, and it’s like, it’s so in your face at that point. Oh, here’s a population that eats high-quality ingredients. They do not have margarine, they have butter. They don’t get fake cheese in a can, they get real cheese that was made really well by their local dairy or whatever. You know, they don’t want just any, you know, chicken wing, or chicken nuggets, or fish finger or whatever. No, they want like a proper piece of fish cooked really well, or steak cooked medium rare, basted in butter and salt and pepper and whatever, you know, so they’re very particular over what they eat. And because of that, they’re reaping the rewards of having some of the lowest rates of heart disease. Yeah, in Europe.
It’s fascinating to me. It’s so obvious.
That is like a whole country’s basically showing that just by being stubborn, and not wanting to adopt this whole low-fat culture, by resisting the low-fat culture, they are less fat and have less heart disease. Yeah, so if that’s not like a case study, it’s all epidemiology. And it’s all basically, based on something that’s very complicated. And we won’t be able to sort of get any facts out of this. But it’s very interesting to think that people are looking at the fringe and going like, they should be getting so much more heart disease than they are. So it’s like they’re flying in the face of the standard guidelines as a whole country. And instead of sort of waking up to the fact that “oh, maybe more people should eat like the French.” They go like: “Oh, no, it’s their culture, their lifestyle choices”. They try and distract from the fact that their diet is actually superior to everyone else’s.
Yeah, like people should just accept the fact that saturated fat is good for you. Plus, you need it to make healthy hormones. And well, one of the things is, linoleic acid, polyunsaturated fats, if you’re on like a Western diet, like the standard American diet, you’re probably getting in a lot of polyunsaturated fats, which means you’re probably getting in a lot of linoleic acid. Now, you might not know this, but linoleic acid sends signals to your body to store fat, like often in nature, where you’d find a lot of linoleic acid is in things like nuts and seeds. And it’s like the stuff you’d find before winter. So if you eat a lot of linoleic acid, you’re basically telling your body, winter is coming, we need to prepare, we need to store fat. Where if you get saturated fat that has stearic acid in it, like if it’s, you know, from animal sources, even get stearic uric acid in cocoa butter. But you get stearic acid in butter and tallow. And what stearic acid does is it can reduce your visceral fat, so the fat around your organs. It’s very satiating, and if you eat more stearic acid, you’ll lose more fat, but it’ll also be harder for you to gain fat. Because it tells your body that times are good. We’ve killed this animal. We’ve got enough food. We don’t need to panic and pray for winter.
Yeah, that’s a pretty good summary of the evolutionarily appropriate influences of the different fatty acids. So linoleic acid, I guess, and stearic acid are both fatty acids. And like you said, they seem to have different influences on your metabolism. So the linoleic acid will slow down your metabolism. So it’s like, okay, well, winter is coming, let’s be careful with how much energy we burn, and let’s start storing for the times in need”. With stearic acid, it seems to speed up your metabolism and say like “okay, cool, this is a time of plenty, it’s time to build and get stronger and like, you know, basically build your muscle and it’s time to be metabolically active.” Because I think your body’s supposed to go through periods. And that’s why there are a lot of benefits to fasting, even if it’s just sort of time-restricted eating. Yeah, you need that sort of cycle of building and breaking down. Not to say that anyone should purposely eat a lot of linoleic acid. I feel like it was situations where people had to resort to gathering nuts and seeds because they were unable to catch anything to eat that, you know, they started realizing: “okay, we’re in dire straits now and we’re down to the nuts and seeds”, that the body’s like: “okay, things are about to get a lot worse. And so, let’s store away for the lean times.” Versus, if you’ve just killed a giant animal, like an elk or an elephant or whatever, our ancestors hunted and killed you, it’s almost like your body’s being enlightened to the fact that oh, yeah, we just got a shitload of protein and nutrients. And we’re going to be good for the next week or month, depending on, you know, the size of the animal you killed. And so, it shows you just like on a longer-term cycle, yes, people time-restricted eating in a 24-hour period. But even within the year, your body is used to going through different cycles. And you shouldn’t be sort of triggering the one cycle all the time. So you shouldn’t be always trying to build muscle. Don’t do the bodybuilder thing and wake up in the middle of the night to drink a milkshake. Just to keep stimulating that protein synthesis. You know, you got to take a break from mTOR. You know, the building, you have to also try and go in and repair and take out what’s not working very well.
Yeah, you definitely need a balance of kind of like fasting, feasting, fasting, feasting. You’re not meant to eat the whole time or first all time.
Yeah and that’s what the French are basically doing. They eat their meals at set times. They don’t eat anything in between. And, you know, it’s almost like people see it as this particularly fringe thing. But I think it’s actually supposed to be a very human thing. Like, I don’t think people were designed to snack throughout the day. I think humans were designed to get a large meal in and then they’ll be good for a while. And a lot of people now are sort of eating only two meals a day and doing really well on that.
Yeah, I’d say two to three meals a day is ideal.
Yeah, more than that is a little bit unnecessary.
Every time you eat, you spike your insulin levels. So just the fact that the French don’t eat as frequently is way better for insulin and other organs. Talking about the French paradox made me think of Brad Marshall, who started The Croissant Diet.
Very interesting. Case study.
The French have croissants. Like he wanted to lose weight. And then he started to make croissants, but by using butter with extra stearic acid in it. And he saw that he lost weight quite quickly. And when we learned about this, I tried something similar. I didn’t have croissants, but I did add a lot more stearic acid into my diet. And I was actually like kind of a plateau before that. And I started losing weight again. And I felt better. And it’s almost like I could feel like I was burning more energy in the day. And it was just good. So one day, I would like to do that again, like just really try to get even more stearic acid in. I’m already getting a reasonable amount, I think, when I’m eating enough fatty meat, but just to like really test it. It’ll be fun.
Yeah, well, he tested it pretty well. Normal store-bought croissants are cheaper. They’re using canola oil or sunflower oil or whatever seeds/vegetable oil is in there. They’re using those kinds of oils to replace the butter in the croissant. And so, when he was eating those, he was gaining weight. And then he’d still be eating croissants. And he was just eating croissants, when he changed to the butter that he added a bit of extra stearic acid into, he suddenly started losing weight. So despite the fact that in both instances, he was eating croissants, which no one will say is a healthy food, but he was just isolating for the linoleic acid versus stearic acid. And so, as soon as he went to the stearic acid side of things, his metabolism improved, he started losing weight. And it’s going to be very hard for someone who promotes low fat to explain that case study right there. And anyone can try this because it’s really not difficult to replicate what he did.
He would make sandwiches with the croissants. Like he’d put other things on them. But imagine having like a sandwich three times a day. Sounds good to me.
Yeah. But he was isolating for what fatty acid. So obviously, we already covered that. Yeah. And that’s just another example that’s pretty much the French Paradox in a nutshell. It’s like, if you want to have the croissant, make sure that it’s a croissant made with high-quality flour. You don’t want any bleached crap from you know, GMO crop or whatever and have it smothered in vegetable oil and sunflower oil, rather get the croissant that is made really well with good flour, and use real butter. And that’s how you can be like the French. Yeah, it’s by doing it the way the French do it. They do it with the best ingredients. And they have such a high standard on food quality. And if you start paying more attention to your food quality, you’ll definitely notice a difference.
Yeah, definitely. So if you want to be like the French, eat red meat, eat your saturated fat, skip the vegetable oils, margarine, and see how your health improves.
Yeah, and if you’re still a little bit on the fence as to whether the whole vegetable oil versus saturated fat oil is better. Just have a look at when these oils were invented. Yeah. Right around the time when suddenly heart attacks started skyrocketing and diabetes rates started skyrocketing. Obesity and being overweight suddenly started skyrocketing, right after the invention of these oils.
Yeah, like everyone always wants to blame like sugars and stuff like that. Yes, if you eat too much sugar, you’ll gain weight. But the real problem is all the vegetable oils, and you can actually get away with more sugar if you’re not having that. And I mean, the French didn’t skip sugar completely. They’ll have their desserts but it’s not mixed in with vegetable oils.
No, it’ll be like if it’s a chocolate fondant, they’ll use real butter and really high-quality cocoa. And yeah, there’ll be sugar in there. But it’s clearly not the problem because they are the healthiest. And they’re still having the chocolate fondant. So if you’re a person who wants to have the, you know, desserts and the croissants and the sweets and stuff, just make sure it’s high quality. And you’ll already be one step in the right direction.
Definitely. So that was our take on the real French Paradox. I hope it was enlightening for some.
So yeah. I hope you can implement a little bit of this in your life and live like the French because I feel like everyone could gain a little bit of health from eating the way the French do.