I’ve just spent a week in Paris (can’t you tell from my new language mastery!?)
Besides all the usual must see tourists jaunts – Eiffel Tower, Arch De Triumph and The Louvre – which were spectacular in their own right, there was a much bigger attraction which caught my eye.
Friendly, hospitable and LEAN.
Maybe it’s because I’m used to seeing 1 in 3 Australians being overweight which makes my observation even more ‘shag on a rock’ but it was refreshing to see such a healthy bunch of souls going about their day with such energy and purpose.
Seriously, I was hard pressed to find man, woman or child noticeably overweight.
Surely this is not the same population which throw down wine, cheese, bread and butter everyday by the beret full?
Yes indeed (or should I say Oui, Oui!)
So what’s their secret?
How can all the things we are told by our health authorities NOT to eat produce such a strikingly upright and poised population akin to their famous towering landmark?
According to a 2017 OECD report, Parisians rate 10th in world obesity rankings with 15% of its men and women being on the pudgy side compared to Australia’s 32nd place with over 28% of its population sporting bulging bellies.
Now, I’m no epidemiologist and I don’t profess to know the exact reasons why Parisians are leaner and live longer than most but I did make a number of startling observations which may help explain:
1. An absence of sugar
One day in Paris I came across a bunch of teenagers having lunch. They were all sitting cross legged in a circle munching on their crumbed perch and downing it with bottles of Evian water. I asked them why not Coke and they looked at me as if drinking a black sugary drink with fresh seafood was a crime punishable by the guillotine. They said Coke was only for special occasions or for mixing drinks. What the? Oh sure Paris has their boutique chocolate shops but you got a sense that each little mouth-sized bliss-ball-of-art was popped down once a week rather than occupying the base of the food pyramid. It was clear that the ‘importance’ of sugar paled into insignificance when compared to their colourful and tasty everyday fare. To make the point, in September 2005, France passed a law banning soda-and-snack-selling vending machines from public schools and misleading television and print food advertising. France also put in place 1.5% tax on the advertising budgets of food companies that did not encourage healthy eating. Bravo!
Young Parisians having lunch
2. Modern Day Gatherers
One afternoon I met a young man at the corner laundromat. He said he lived in a 12-square-metre apartment with a bed, a sink and a small fridge. He told me that because most people in Paris lived in close quarters with limited space for food storage they needed to shop each day for their provisions. And he was spot on. At the end of each day I saw swarms of locals picking up cheese, meat, bread and fresh vegetables for their nightly meal. From what I saw there ain’t no 40-isle Woolies supermarkets in the burbs with 8-seater SUV’s in the car parks, ready to cart the 10 litres of coca cola home to your 500L fridge. No sir-ee! Because they have to CARRY their groceries from their little IGA-ish supermarkets they are selective about what to buy and what they can store – that means hardly any bulky items including packaged food. In one instance the coke isle in a local supermarket housed a total of 18 litres. A far cry from our whole-isle soft drink shrines in Oz.
The soft-drink isle in Paris
3. Fresh food by the truckload
Outside our apartment every Saturday and Wednesday was a mile-long fresh food market which defied belief. Meat still bleeding, fish still kicking, and fruits and veggies so colourful it hurt my eyes. A kaleidoscope of culinary delights! I discovered that these twice-weekly fresh food markets are standard in every city precinct (required by law) where the locals can buy their weekly fare from pasture to plate. You get the feeling that the ‘art’ of gathering their weekly stosh is more like an excursion rather than a pain-in-the-arse practice we’d rather have delivered to our door. On one occasion I watched a lady well into her 80’s inspect a wedge of cheese – slowly twisting her palm from left to right to inspect any sign of imperfections. She then asked a barrage of questions to the grocer about its origin, texture and taste. A far different experience than plopping a packet of Kraft cheese slices into your food trolley. There is a lot to learn from their fresh food culture.
Paris food market
4. Full-fat everything
It’s no secret that the French love their animal fat – cheese, meat, eggs and dairy…yet these are precisely the foods which we (in Australia at least) are told to avoid. But when you look at the French, the mantra of ‘eat fat, get fat’ simply doesn’t ring true. Why? Well my hunch gets back to the example of the school kids having lunch – while their food was high in fat it was almost non- existent in sugar and as we now know this is a major driver of adiposity (increase in body fat). A high fat diet (from meat, eggs and dairy foods) consumed in the absence of sugar (packaged food, cereals, sugary drinks and sweets) has kept populations lean for 2.5 million years. Further, animal foods (with vegetables and some fruits) provides the body with a total coverage of vitamin and minerals necessary for life without any reliance on grain and sugar for nutrients.
5. No McDonalds
Again, maybe it was observational bias, but for the life of me I just didn’t see the plethora of fast food outlets compared to Australia. OK, so I went into one McDonalds (my son wanted french fries) and who did I see most of – Tourists! In a way I felt sorry for lill’ ol’ Maccas trying to sell it’s locals hamburger meat when most of Paris would prefer veal steak. It’s like finding the ab roller in the dingy corner of the gym – a nice idea once but hardly ever used. Further, a Big Mack was $10 and yet a traditional cafe serving of beef and salad was $12. Maybe the younger generation of Parisians may embrace the whole fast food concept but I got the impression that the local stampede through it’s doors was by no means a McFlurry.
My Parisian salad
So, to sum up – eat fresh, eat animals, avoid sugar and take away food.