Earlier this week, I posted links to several old margarine commercials, including a Blue Bonnet ad in which French chefs declared “no difference” when comparing the taste of industrial vegetable goo to real butter. This demonstration made such an impression on the French, they immediately continued their habit of putting real butter in pretty much everything.
Compared to Americans, the French consume four times as much butter, three times as much pork and 60% more cheese. Their overall consumption of saturated animal fat is double ours. Since the experts have told us over and over that saturated fat will clog your arteries, the heart-attack rate in France must be higher than the Eiffel Tower, right?
The heart-disease rate in France is about one-third the rate in the United States and United Kingdom, in spite of the fact that the rate of smoking in France is also 10% higher. Since everyone knows saturated fat causes heart disease, the experts refer to this as the French Paradox — and for years, they’ve been falling all over themselves to explain it away.
First they blamed the paradox on all that red wine. Yes, that must be it … animal fat will kill you, but red wine protects you! Just one little problem: people consume even more red wine in countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic, where the heart-attack rate is three or four times higher.
So the experts tried blaming the French Paradox on vegetables. Animal fats will kill you, but not if you eat eggplants and peppers! But again, there’s a problem: it doesn’t hold true around the world. The heart-attack rate in the vegetarian region of India, for example, is nearly twice as high as in the region where most people eat meat. No meat, lots of vegetables, but lots of heart attacks too … how embarrassing.
With wine and vegetables unable to excuse the paradox, the experts next assigned magical powers to garlic. Perhaps cholesterol was originally spread to humans by vampires and is therefore repelled by garlic. That theory looked promising until clinical trials concluded that garlic merely tastes good … assuming it’s properly roasted or sautéed.
Clearly, there must be some untested but uniquely French trait or behavior that protects arteries from the well-known clogging effects of saturated fat. So in the interest of both science and personal health (I do, after all, eat a lot of saturated fat), I’ve decided to try making myself a bit more French … or at least more French-like. Here are some ideas I’m considering testing to see if they protect my heart:
Adopting more cultured table manners.
Through a bit of online research, I discovered that table manners in France are similar to the American version, but with a few significant differences. To be more French-like, I will:
- Keep my hands on the table instead of in my lap. I have no idea where this tradition started. Perhaps after the Norman conquest, French lords sitting down to dinner in their newly-acquired English estates learned the hard way that a hand under the table could be holding a dagger. If you are reasonably sure your dinner guests have no intention of stabbing you, your stress level will be lower — and we all know stress can cause heart disease.
- Place the bread on the tablecloth, not on my plate. I don’t eat bread, so I’m more than happy to leave more room on my plate for the meat and vegetables.
- Place my napkin on my lap only after the lady of the house does. That’s fine by me too, even if my wife forgets to place a napkin on her lap. For the past five years, pretty much every spill that’s landed on my lap had to travel all the way across the table from the general direction of wherever my daughters were sitting. If I’m paying attention, I can usually get out of the way.
Peeing in public.
Travel sites warn Americans not to be shocked by the sight of French men relieving themselves on the street. As someone who often made the mistake of drinking an Iced Venti Americano shortly before driving off and getting stuck in L.A. traffic, I think the French have the right idea here. Trying to create a vise grip with your thighs as traffic inches along and joggers pass by is extremely stressful. And there’s no telling what all those unreleased toxins are doing to your body.
Sunbathing topless at the beach.
I wouldn’t do this for years. Yes, I know French women are comfortable doing it, but for much of my life, I had bigger boobs than they did. That’s not the case anymore, and I believe soaking up some extra vitamin D may protect against heart disease.
Stretching the lunch hour to three hours.
I’ve never actually done this, because I’ve always avoided government jobs. But since I’m self-employed and work at home, there’s nothing to prevent me from closing my office door from noon until 3:00 and taking a nice nap after lunch. If my blogging becomes less frequent, please be patient; I’m only trying to protect my heart.
Watching Jerry Lewis movies.
This may be the hidden key that has eluded serious-minded researchers. Laughter is a great stress-reducer and releases feel-good hormones. The only trouble is, I can’t find any Jerry Lewis movies at the video store. I suspect, however, that the heart-healthy benefits don’t derive from watching Jerry Lewis specifically … just someone goofy, spastic, clueless, and inept. So I’m going to substitute watching the House of Representatives on C-SPAN.
Speaking in a breathy, sexy, accented voice.
Many years ago, I worked as a computer geek in an office where one of the employees had transferred in from Paris. She was always impeccably dressed, tastefully perfumed, and perfectly coiffed. We had occasional conversations that went something like this:
(In a breathy, accented voice) “Hellohhh, Tohhhm. How was your luhhhnnnch?”
“Yes, I’d be honored to marry you and bear your children!”
(In a breathy, accented, slightly alarmed voice) “Par-done moi?”
“Oh, sorry … old Yankee expression. It means lunch was quite good, thank you.”
Perhaps breathing deeply to load the lungs for speaking oxygenates the blood and lowers blood pressure. I tested this theory last night by speaking to my wife using a breathy French accent. She responded by looking over my shoulder with obvious concern. When I asked what was wrong, she explained that she was waiting for some Chinese guy to leap from the closet and karate-chop me.
Kissing business associates on the cheek.
I spent ten years in Hollywood, so I’m used to people kissing each other’s cheeks to get ahead. The French version is, if anything, more pleasant and easier on the back. Either way, physical affection is known to have healing properties. I plan to test this theory the next time I sign a contract for a programming gig.
Keeping a mistress.
This one makes perfect medical sense. With a wife and a mistress, you’d get double the exercise. And there’s another advantage: in a very French, open-mistress situation, you can tell your wife you’re spending the evening with your mistress, tell your mistress you’re spending the evening with your wife, then go to a sports bar and watch Monday Night Football.
However, I won’t be testing this theory. I explained it to my wife, and she assured me that several recent studies concluded that keeping a mistress is actually associated with a significantly shorter lifespan, especially in my case.
There is one other theory about the French Paradox that I might eventually get around to testing: While the French consume a lot more animal fat than we do, they also consume about 5% as much sugar — and almost no vegetable oils, apart from olive oil.
Vive la France. May she always be a poke in the eye to the nutrition experts.