Longtime Healthy Vegan friend and colleague Aurelia d’Andrea has learned a bit about the French way of life after living in Paris for seven years. Here, she shares her insights into French dining culture and the secrets to staying healthy and happy in country known for its decadent sauces, desserts, and love of wine.
The French are renowned for their elegant way of living, which emphasizes good food, great wine, and simple joie de vivre. If it sounds like the recipe to a long and happy life, it is! There’s even a name for it: The French Paradox—a term used to explain how an entire nation is able to subsist on a diet of cheese, croissants, and creamy sauces and still have relatively low rates of coronary heart disease and other life-threatening maladies linked to unhealthy diets.
Their secret is one that every man, woman, and child in France is taught from a early age—a secret that supports their health and wellness, in spite of their questionable lifestyle habits (smoking is still a popular pastime in france) and dietary choices, and it’s one we could all benefit from: moderation.
Yes, the French do enjoy their pain au chocolat and cream-filled éclairs, but they make a ritual out of it and stick to the rules when indulging. Sweet treats are not an all-day, every day treat; rather, they are saved for specific moments or occasions. And if you did have a hankering for junk food, you'd be hard-pressed to find a vending machine selling chips or candy bars anywhere in the country (coffee and baguettes from machines, however, are commonplace!).
One thing is for sure: you don’t have to pick up any new bad habits to try out the French way of life. Try incorporating some of these healthy routines instead, and see how la vie francaise works for you.
5 French Secrets to Eating healthfully & Joyfully
Say no to snacks
No nibbling between meals sounds extreme, right? But it’s true: the French save all their appetites for set mealtimes, making breakfast, lunch, and dinner special occasions to look forward to. When you’re actually hungry, you’ll discover that eating becomes a multi-sensory experience, with not just flavor, but with enticing aromas and visual appeal. Try resisting the call to snack between meals, and see if postponing gratification makes you appreciate mealtimes even more, too.
Meet your makers
Getting to know the people who grow your food is one way to deepen your understanding of the value of what you eat, and it can enhance your appreciation for every bite you take. Every city in France has a weekly outdoor market, and producteurs are happy to tell you about their farming practices, their values, and even share tips on how to prepare the fruits and vegetables they sell. You can enjoy a similar experience where you live by visiting your local farmer’s market and chatting with the vendors, or simply by joining a CSA and learning more about how and where your food is grown.
Balance your plate
Instead of loading your plate up with mounds of food, try scaling down the portions and arranging them on the plate in an attractive way. When you eat, slow the process down and take time to notice how lovely the food looks, how good it smells, and how delicious it tastes. And before you head to the kitchen to load up on seconds, check in with yourself to see whether you’re actually still hungry, or if you’re already sated. In true French style, you might just discover that one perfectly portioned plate is all you need.
Your IKEA dishware and paper napkins are okay, but here’s a radical idea: instead of saving your “fancy” plates, cloth napkins, and heirloom silverware for special occasions, put them to use for everyday meals. The art of the table (which can include candles, placemats, and decorations) is a longstanding french tradition, and it’s a revelation to discover how sitting down to dine with an elegant place setting can change the mood of the meal, transforming it from mundane to marvelous, even if you’re just eating a hummus sandwich with a side of crispy kale chips.
Wine and dine
The mystery of The French Paradox, according to studies, is all in the wine; the antioxidants present in fermented grape juice—red wine in particular—are believed to help the body process saturated fats, which explains the relatively low rates of coronary heart disease and obesity among the French. The key, as always, is moderation. A glass of wine with dinner or—why not?—a flute of champagne, can enhance the quality of your dining experience and might even support your health, to boot.