I recently stumbled upon an excellent blog by cocktail enthusiast and bartender Charles Hardwick, which expressed some strong opinions about today’s calorie-counting, diet-obsessed population. In short: “Watching a grown man eat a bunless burger with a knife and fork while he drinks his beer with a straw is akin to watching him consume his own entrails. Horrifying.”
I agree. I’m depressed by today’s obsession with health food, which all too often precludes people from experiencing the great flavors of food and drink that make life worth living. Also, it’s not over-reaching to say that societies have been built and sustained on traditions of food and drink; so what will happen to those cultural practices as we continue devolving into a calorie-counting, food-paranoid society that no longer knows how to enjoy a food’s flavor without worrying about how it will impact the weight scale the next day? This, my friends, is what we have to look forward to if we keep moving down this path: more and more variations of Soylent, an uber-bizarre liquid food replacement system.
But seriously. How do we stay healthy while still consuming food stress-free? It is indeed a conundrum. So after reading Charles’ blog, I started lamenting about why we can’t have it both ways, which then got me to thinking about the French Paradox. This refers to the seemingly contradictory fact that the French have extremely high consumption rates of saturated fats (mmm, French triple-cream brie, nom nom nom), but unusually low rates of coronary heart disease and obesity. And, I decided to get to the bottom of it. Here goes!
Question: Is the French Paradox really a thing? Or just something we like to complain about with no basis in fact?
Answer: Yes, the French Paradox is really a thing, and a lot of scientists are pretty interested in it. Here’s the data: the recommended intake of saturated fat, according to the World Health Organization, is less than 10% of total energy (i.e. calories). The French consume at least 16%, significantly more than most countries. Yet check out this graph charting the relationship between cholesterol levels and death from heart disease in 40 countries – whereas for most countries, the two are highly correlated, that’s not the case in France.
Question: Well then, what the heck, France? Why is this so?
Answer: There’s been a ton of research done on this, summarized nicely in this article by the National Institutes of Health. The basic takeaway: wine. Red wine. According to a strong body of research, wine consumption has been associated with a decrease of 24–31% in mortality of all causes, when consumed regularly (two or three glasses a day). Sadly for me, not the case with liquor; also not the case with beer.
Question: What should we do?
Answer: I think it’s pretty obvious. Drink more red wine. Or, stick to your beer and liquor and go to the gym. Or, just try to be a little less neurotic. But either way – don’t turn your back on the tasty foods in your life. Because last time I checked, stress (read: calorie-counting) and depression (read: fried chicken deprivation) are pretty bad for your health, too.
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