The French Paradox

      52 Comments on The French Paradox

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.

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52 thoughts on “The French Paradox

  1. TonyNZ

    The 60% more cheese thing, I would be interested to see how that breaks down also.

    French = brie, roquefort, camembert…
    Americans = cheez-whiz, pizza topping premix, doritos…

    Kind of like processed meat being lumped as “meat” for all those cancer studies.

    I’m sure that’s part of the difference too. My naturopathic doctor told me it’s fine to eat real cheese (like the locally-produced raw-milk cheese I buy now), but to stay away from from the stuff that’s been homogenized and pasteurized to death.

  2. Mike Callaghan

    I didn’t know you’re a developer, too, Tom. A man of many talents. What are your specialties, if I may ask?

    That’s mostly how I pay the bills. I used to be a full-time standup comedian back in the day, but that required constant travel; not something I’m willing to do with a wife and kids. So I bought some books and became a programmer. The specialties: SQL Server, VB.NET, C#.NET, ASP.NET, VBA.

  3. Gerard Pinzone

    Thank you! I knew about the higher amount of saturated fat in the French diet, but I didn’t know about the relative lack of sugar and vegetable oils. I also didn’t know that the French weren’t the top wine consumers. Next time someone brings up Resveratrol, I’ll have to remember that statistic. All around, an eye opening article.

    BTW, I loved Dave Dixon’s articles on paradoxes:

    I remember that post, and I agree: you can’t just declare a paradox when your theory doesn’t hold up. A paradox means there’s something wrong or missing with your theory, period.

    Wine may indeed have some protective effect, but certainly not enough to explain the French Paradox, given the CHD death rate in other wine-drinking countries.

  4. Elenor

    Bravo m’sieur! C’est tres bon … er … that is … yah done good, Tennessee-boy!

    You did however, leave out the possibility that it’s ONLY speaking French that does it… That hypothesis probably has almost as much “evidence” as the lipid hypothesis, and it sounds prettier over dinner!

    Mais je ne parle pas francais!

  5. Jason

    What about bread? French are known for their bread (starch) and pastries (sugar). I thought starch and sugers were the enemies?

    They may be known for bread and pastries, but they can’t possibly eat as many total carbs as we do. They eat more fat, yet still consume fewer calories than Americans on average. That means less of something else … almost certainly carbohydrates, given the amount of pork and other animal foods they consume.

  6. JPB

    Referring to the placement of the hands, I was told that they do that so that no one can be suspected of doing “funny” things under the table. I guess having a weapon would qualify – oooh les francais!

    The proper position for the hands was demonstrated for me when I was in France. You kind of lean your free arm (just below the wrist) on the table, leaving the hand free (and obviously visible).

    When are the “meme-aholics” going to get it about sat fat?

    I should’ve figured the visible-hands rule had more to do with hanky-panky than violence.

  7. Tinamemphis5

    If anyone else has trouble finding Jerry Lewis movies, substitute this blog, very funny!


    Wait … you’re not calling me spastic and clueless, are you?

  8. Lisa Sargese

    I wonder if the enjoyment of food has something to do with it as well. Not only is the food rich (nice and fatty) but it’s flavorful. I think I read somewhere that the French sit down longer for their meals as well. Maybe in the Standard American Diet the wolfing down of food and chasing it with soda to substitute for salivation has something to do with how sick we get from what we’re eating. Yeah, the 5% as much sugar thing might be a big part of it too and no industrial marga-goo.

    Malcolm Kendrick makes exactly that point in the Great Cholesterol Con.

  9. Sara

    Jason mentions breads and pastries. Yes, these are considered to be pretty essential parts of French cuisine, but portion size and frequency are very very different. For instance, croissants you’re served in France are about a third the size of typical American versions. And you don’t eat them every single day, either. Desserts, including pastries, are very small compared with American mega-monstrosities like Bennigan’s Death by Chocolate — the new trend of tiny desserts served in tall shot glasses is a lot more like a normal French dessert, except that the French version would be made with real butter and cream and eggs and no ingredients you couldn’t pronounce the English version of, and all that good fat would make it so satisfying that a little cup of it is plenty. And, again, you don’t have that every day — for everyday meals, dessert is more likely to be cheese. And while crusty white bread *is* eaten every day and pretty much with every meal, the portions are again small. I went looking for actual stats and found several sources that say per capita consumption runs about 5oz per day; it’s not clear to me whether that’s what’s actually eaten, or whether that’s what’s purchased and includes some fraction that goes stale and gets tossed out, but even if it’s actual eating, that’s hardly the mountains of bread that I think most people envision.

    Good points. No one is suggesting the French live on a zero-carb diet, but it can’t be the 500/day that’s typical for Americans. From what I could find online, 5 oz. of French bread would be about 76 carbs. Toss in some vegetables, a bit of fruit, some wine, even a small dessert here and there, and you still don’t get anywhere close to 500.

  10. Angel

    I wish more restaurants served “French style” desserts and pastries – small and freshly made from high-quality ingredients. I don’t want a huge honkin’ chunk of cheesecake after dinner – just a little something sweet and light. I’d be willing to spend my dining out money on small, well-made desserts.

    Unfortunately, the “dessert shooters” I have tried were pathetic. I had some at Applebee’s once – the “creamy” part was like store-bought frosting, yet still tasteless, as was every other ingredient in the desserts. Yuck!

    A restaurant we used to frequent in California offered a big, free cookie for dessert. I always turned it down, but I did look it up once: 1200 calories, mostly sugar and starch of course, just for the cookie. Glad I never ate it.

  11. zbig

    as far as the Czechs are concerned – I don’t think they’re good examples of wine drinkers – their specialty is beer (the pilsener took its name after a city in Czechia) and knedliki (in wikipedia referred to as Klöße ) – a high carb addition everywhere.

    I found wine-consumption per capita figures online. If they’re drinking lots of beer and still drinking more wine than the French, I’d say they’ve got trouble.

  12. Ray Sawhill

    Funny posting!

    A few other things about the French (at least the traditional French) that may pertain. They exercise extreme portion control. They don’t snack. They like their food fresh, not packaged. They savor the sweetness and voluptuousness of life as it goes by, even while making a virtue of restraint. (Restraint heightens the voluptuousness.) And they police each others’ weight fervently. They can be quite unforgiving with each other about keeping up appearances.

    Shaming sometimes has its uses.

    Dr. Eric Oliver told me that nearly all of the increase in calories since 1970 is due to snacks and sodas — and of course, that means it’s mostly sugar and starch. If the French just skip that part of our intake, they’re doing something right.

  13. Richard Nikoley

    I lived & worked in France for two years and ate with the French every day, attended many dinner parties, etc.

    I think it’s simply that they eat mostly real food. Even the bread they eat is made with care, and they don’t eat anywhere near as much as people think. And when they eat it with cheese, it’s a small piece of crust with a huge blob of soft, triple cream cheese on it (I ate several pounds of cheese per week)

    They eat very small breakfasts, never snack, the potato chip aisle at the supermarket…there is no potato chip aisle…little to no junk food, and dessert is often a platter of fruit.

    They are also big on being happy & joyful.

    I never ate so well over two years as I did there, and I ate a lot, and lots of fat. I weighed the least I had since high school and upon my return to the US I immediately began putting on weight. From 165 all the way up to 230 in the space of a few years.

    Sounds like a heck of a place to live for awhile.

  14. gallier2

    Here argument from authority (je suis Français, don’t let the german email address confuse you). There’s one big difference in France compared to others, the cultic dedication to food culture. Food is not considered as simple fuel, but as a source of pleasure and basis for other activities (hanky-panky or not). That is a point that I noticed in all those wondeful paleo/low-carb/nutrition blogs (WAP, Eades’ blogs, yours, Richard Nikoley, Stephans, Peter’s, heretic and many others) is the focus on the QUALITY of the food. It reminds me of the french view of food, the price is secondary, the QUALITY is the most important variable. There’s real competition to find the little producer of the marvellous, fantastic, exclusive product not findable in supermarkets. If one knows someone who makes artisanal cheese/foie gras/wine/ham/saucisson or whatever is a lucky man.
    And we should not forget that the pioneers of nutrition science were french (Brillat-Savarin and Claude Bernard), their works are still mostly correct (Banting’s doctor who put him on low carb diet referenced them).
    The problem in France though, is that we get everything coming from the USA, but with 20 years of lag. So you noticed that Jerry Lewis was quite popular in France but that was in the ’70s (I suppose, as his major movies were made in the ’50s and ’60s that he must have been popular at that time). So you started your obesity epidemic in the late ’70s, so we started ours in the late ’90s …

    I sure hope the French don’t follow us into the land of land of obesity, fatty liver disease, and diabetes. That would be a shame.

  15. Deborah

    Unfortunately, you forgot –

    make sure to never take a shower (why shower when you can just cover up the stench with perfume?)
    and never brush your teeth (the wine makes a good mouth wash)
    Deodorant is unheard of. (Just ask my father (from a distance)- a 71 year old Frenchman still in perfect health)

  16. Felix

    I just came from a business meeting in Greece. They don’t eat breakfast and – besides a small salad and a few french fries, all they eat at the other meals is meat and cheese and tons of it. I’ve never eaten that much meat in my life (it was like heaven, really). I’ve asked them about this and they said that they always eat like that and that they usually eat a lot all the time.

    So that’s the heart-healthy mediterranean diet in a nutshell:

    Skip breakfast and eat tons of fat meat and cheese.

    It must be the olive oil on the salad that protects them.

    Sally Fallon lived in the Mediterranean region for awhile. She told me during our interview that people who think the Mediterranean diet is all vegetables, pasta and olive oil with very little animal fat have no idea what they’re talking about.

    1. EST

      Greece has also one of the highest smoking rates in Europe–nearly half the population smokes. We know conclusively that smoking causes heart disease, so if the diet-heart theory is accurate, then Greeks should be dropping like flies from heart attacks.

  17. gallier2

    Huh, stereotypes are hard lived. The stench covering perfume stories come from the historical record of the Versaille court of the 17th century. Believe me that modern urban french shower as often as anyone else in Europe (I will not compare to Americans as I have never been in the US and the number of Americans I can compare from is single digit (I shared an appartment in Brussels for three months with an American)).
    This said, I noticed on myself that deodorant increased my perspiration and odor long term. In the time I used deodorant, when applying in the morning, armpits were wet and stinky in the afternoon, so I was tempted to put on more and so on. I stopped using them and after 2 weeks it got back to normal, i.e. the armpits are dry and have only a light odour on the evening.
    As for the showering (with soap), I’ve recently read that it’s really bad for the Vit.D status. The vit.D is produced on the skin and needs some time to be absorbed, if you shower to often it has no time to penetrate. This said I haven’t found corroborating evendence of this, if someone knows the study this was taken from, I’m all ears.


    I don’t know when you were in France, but there are definitly potato chips aisles in french supermarkets (I haven’t seen american ones, so we are perhaps not speaking of the same thing), it’s generally not far away from the alcohol aisle, as chips (crisps in UK) are often consumed for “apéro” (aperitif where people, mostly men, drink and consume salty food before the main dish. Olives, peanuts, sliced ham and salami, chorizo, chips, small pieces of are often served for apero, a little bit like spanish tappas).

    I’ve never been to France, but I’ve run into a fair number of French tourists, both in the U.S. and while on my honeymoon in Italy and Spain. I don’t remember anyone being offensive, so I figured that must be a very old stereotype.

  18. Terry

    Hey Tom,

    Do you have a good link for sugar consumption per-country?

    Per country, no. I found some US/France comparisons when searching on “French Paradox.”

  19. Nouria

    I am actually French and fully agree with this article, well where food is concerned anyway. It seems to me, having lived in UK for several years, now, the main difference in our eating habit, is that we French people, focus on quality and not on quantity. Even though we eat bread, cheese and cakes, our consumption is a lot smaller than the average English person. We are also a lot more active, which helps with health. Basically enjoy food with no excess. “Du pain, du vin et du boursin” is after all our motto = Bread + vine + cheese.

    I think quality matters as well. When I eat real food, I seem to feel satisfied on less of it.

  20. monasmee

    The recipe for french fries purportedly came from President Thomas Jefferson’s French chef, Honoré Julien. However, I’ll bet he didn’t fry his creation in Omega 6 vegetable oil as we do so readily today.

    I’m sure he didn’t. I’m old enough to remember the fries that were cooked in beef tallow. Man, those were good. I guess the upside of the frankenfats is that I don’t bother ordering fries anymore.

  21. TonyNZ

    Apparently Greece has 14 million tourists a year. France has 76 million. You would think that the number of people that visit these places (myself and a number of others here by the sounds of it) and get disavowed on their assumptions about the diets, that the mediterranean diet idea as it stands currently holds any credence whatsoever.

    But as you say, its more about faith than evidence.

    I guess they don’t make the connection. My parents visited France a couple of times, but I still had to explain to my mom that the true Mediterranean diet isn’t low-fat and isn’t all about vegetables and olive oil.

  22. mezzovoice

    In his very first book,(this is 1974) Dr. Atkins says to his dieters in one of the last chapters “Funnily enough – if all else fails, a trip to Europe always seems to help.” He does not give any further explanation but he must be referring to what several commenters already said: Fresh food, prepared with love, flavourful, rich and varied and not too much. Enough time for meals – meals are seen as time for family and friends to meet. I can’t really claim the same for the whole Germany – where I live – but fortunately I live in part close to the French border and a lot of that attitude has swapped across the border! It also means access to French supermarkets – incidentally and alas -there are shelves and shelves of potato chips nowadays-

  23. Gita

    Regarding the Czech Republic, I can tell you that they eat huge quantities of knedliky (dumplings) and rohliky (rolls) and also have a high rate of diabetes which would explain the higher rates of heart disease. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on price rather than the quality of food for the general masses anyway. Just the opposite of France.

    I’ve been in Prague for the last 2.5 years and it seems to me that even in this short span of time, I am seeing more fat people. It is still rare to see hugely obese Czechs (as opposed to tourists), and surprisingly, a large portion of the population is thin, but you see more and more fat folks.

    American foods are novel and sought-after, as are American ways of eating (read “low-fat”). They make fun of Americans for being so fat, but don’t make a connection between that if they eat the American way, they too will become fat.

    They sound like a walking refutation of the Lipid Hypothesis. Lots of carbohydrates, all that protective wine, but a screamingly high rate of heart disease.

  24. Dr.LaTino

    You’ve got a very good doctor. Raw cheese is the best, raw butter even moar so! I’m going to buy grass fed Butter… but it’s been pasteurized. I don’t know if that defeats the whole purpose.

    The naturopathic doctor was back in California. I hope to find someone like him here.

  25. Richard Nikoley


    “I don’t know when you were in France, but there are definitly potato chips aisles in french supermarkets (I haven’t seen american ones, so we are perhaps not speaking of the same thing), it’s generally not far away from the alcohol aisle, as chips (crisps in UK) are often consumed for “apéro” (aperitif where people, mostly men, drink and consume salty food before the main dish. Olives, peanuts, sliced ham and salami, chorizo, chips, small pieces of are often served for apero, a little bit like spanish tappas).”

    It was from 1990 through ’92, quite some time ago. In those days, the junk food section was small indeed, if there even was one. The dark chocolate section was larger, and the cheese section filled the entire length of an isle in a large supermarket.

    I know exactly what you mean by the apero. I particularly liked a few green olives with my whiskey in a tall glass with once ice cube.

  26. fiona

    on the subject of paradoxs, what about eastern asia? in countries like japan and china where the staple of the diets seem to be starches such ad rice and noodles?

    I had that question myself early on while researching the film. The short answer is that while they do eat rice, their carb intake is still lower than ours. They’re not consuming sodas, donuts, french fries, potato chips, candy bars, etc. The average carb intake for American adults is 500 per day, which translates to 2000 calories. That’s more than a typical Asian adult consumes per day in total calories, including protein, fat, and carbohydrate.

  27. TonyNZ

    “I’m going to buy grass fed Butter… but it’s been pasteurized. I don’t know if that defeats the whole purpose.”

    I would think not. The issue I would see with pasteurisation is that heating briefly to kill microorganisms can also denature proteins, altering their structures and functions and, ultimately, how they might interact with our bodies. I’m not clued up on the pasteurisationo debate but to my knowledge that would seem to be the crux of it.

    Grain feeding, on the other hand, would not affect the protein synthetic machinery of the cattle much, so the proteins would be structurally the same, and I suspect upon pasteurisation, would be similarly different (yay for the apparent oxymoron) to their unpasteurised counterparts.

    What would seem to me to happen with grain fed is that they are broken down differently in the gut, and probably has different ratios and types of fatty acids. Much of cattle digestion is microorganism driven, so their would be a little competition environment down there. When grain is suddenly added, microorganisms that can metabolise it have a selective advantage, thus their outputs become more dominant, changing the nutrient profile in the cow and ultimately the milk.

    So, pasteurised grass fed has got to be better than pasteurised grain fed in my opinion.

  28. Chris

    A good friend of mine has a farm in Southern France. Each year he spends a couple of summer months there. He eats wonderful large lunches in the restaurants and loads up on local wine and pate at night. And every summer he drops about 10 pounds. He thought it was because he was walking more. I think it was getting most of the sugar and all of the processed foods out of his diet. Great stats on the Asian rice consumption vs. our high carbohydrate consumption over here. Finally, after reading the label on my wife’s Lean Cuisine macaroni and cheese pacakage, I have a new take on how dieting makes us fat:

    I avoid foods with the same labels you mentioned … heart-healthy, low-fat, etc. I see that and I know it’s high-starch.

  29. Alex

    500 carbs/day is the average American intake? Oh my god. Even the AHA’s recommendation is 300/day and that’s WAY too much. Moderate carb lifestyle is 40-60 carbs per day. Those on Atkins 20 or less. No wonder we’re a nation of FATASSES.

    The AHA recommendation is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Adult men in America consume closer to 3,000. Either way, yes, 300 is way too many carbs.

  30. AmandaT

    Great post again, Tom! I was in Colmar in France yesterday having driven from our place in Italy through Switzerland on our way home. EVERY restaurant menu had pate de foie gras as a main feature… I had to have some, of course. They stuff the ducks/geese with GRAIN to enlarge their livers with fat. (Not lard then??)
    This month I tried experimenting doing 2 weeks on low carb (20g/1500 calories) and 2 weeks on high carb(250g/1500 calories) for 16 weeks… I did the low carb just fine with no problems.. then I only managed 10 days on the high carb.. problems were heart palpitations, chronic fatigue, digestive distress, painful bloating, constant belly ache, ravenous hunger, dizzy spells and cold sweats. My husband made me call a halt and get back to real food. I lost 4 pounds in the 2 low carb weeks, put on 2 pounds in the ten days on high carb!
    It was the Kellogg’s ‘Nutrigrain’ that killed me in the end. After eating one of those I was so ravenously hungry that I had to eat everything I could find… Has anyone ever plotted consumption of Kellogg’s products against heart disease/diabetes I wonder??

    I agree with your husband: don’t push that experiment too far.

    Your symptoms remind me of my high-grain, mostly-vegetarian days. Lots of Pepto-Bismal in those days. I figured I had a weak stomach, part of getting older, whatever. I never need anything like that now.

  31. Michael

    Mr. Naughton:

    Here’s a suggestion for a post (unless you have already done it): write about how stupid this article is:

    Or…well…an objective analysis would be fine, too…

    I’d like to pass an analysis on to friends. I know someone who is following this guy’s diet for health reasons. As jacked up as the article is, I don’t see how following McDoug’s diet can be in any way a good thing.


    Where did he get the idea that humans only need 30 grams of protein per day? If more than that damages the kidneys, I’d like to know where the Inuits and buffalo-hunting tribes went for dialysis. The guy’s a fruitcake.

  32. KD

    “I’ve never actually done this, because I’ve always avoided government jobs.”

    Oh, snap!

    More relevant to the overall post: I can’t remember for the life of me whose blog I read it on, but wasn’t one of those crazy misinformed nutrition writers saying that the French were eating lower fat/less animal products than before but their instances of heart disease were increasing so there was still more work to be done about getting the French to eat better. Shame if it’s true that the French are buying into our stupidity.

    I didn’t see that one, but yes, that would be crazy.

  33. Michael

    Mr. Naughton:

    I’d think that the “30 grams” idea of McDoug comes from the same place as does the discredited notions of phlogiston, caloric, a 6,000 year-old earth, and Keynesian economics.


    I’d say that’s about right. I consume more than 100 grams per day of protein, so I guess my kidneys are toast.

  34. Halle

    zees eeez won ahv yoor most een-SIGH- tful pohsts, Meester Naw-ton….songk you veery moch.

    (I’ve decided to adopt a fake french accent as a preventative health measure. It doesn’t cost anything and who knows? It might confer some kind of health advantage. And somehow it seems to make red wine and aged cheese taste that much better! G!)

    Your accent is flawless. Just reading it got me thinking back to that young French lady in the office …

  35. Xavier

    When you start scientifically counting carbs and calories, you are pretty much on the wrong idea. Even the word “carbs” sounds, to me, very UK/US. It’s not (yet) much in use in France. I think there is no real mystery: eat good food, in reasonable quantities, food you appreciate, food you prepared yourself from natural and simple ingredients. On top of that, pour some nice red wine, smoke a cigarette and have sex. I do not want to sound like Forest Gump, but my mum kept telling me: “You can have everything if it’s in a measured manner”. That probably sums up the French secret.

    Still, I am pretty sure the French Paradox is already on the verge of becoming a fantasy from the past.

    A Frenchman, in hope that your theory will prove true on me.

    I hope it proves true as well. I’d hate to see the French follow in our footsteps on diet.

  36. ethyl d

    I lived in France for a year back in the mid-80’s, and I remember when I came home how shocked I was when I landed at O’Hare at how fat everybody was. It’s even more noticeable when you don’t see it every day and then all of a sudden you do–and this was twenty-five years ago.

    One thing I might add about how the French eat in addition to some of the other commenters’ observations is that they stretch their meals out over a longer period of time. They break at midday for a two-hour lunch, for example, and if you get invited to someone’s house for an evening or Sunday dinner, be prepared to stay for hours. During this time they eat several small courses interspersed with lots of conversation. I remember when I got back to America how bizarre it seemed to watch people heaping their plates with ginormous portions of everything in sight and having it all consumed in a few minutes. And then going back for seconds and thirds!

    I do remember sections in grocery markets with soft drinks and chips, but they were small sections, not whole aisles dedicated solely to snacks and sodas. There were a few large supermarkets, but people tended to shop at small neighborhood specialty markets–here for your baguette, there for your fish, there for your meat, a stop at one of the many produce stands for fruits and vegetables, and at the patisserie if it was a special meal and one wanted a small dessert as a treat. Being an American who had never heard of low-carb, I frequented the pastry shops way too often!

    I believe the more relaxed pace helps in all kinds of ways, including what Dr. Kendrick wrote about: stress is hard on your heart.

  37. Miki

    This has to be a major contributor to the “paradox”:
    A Baguette recipe I found on the internet:
    “Make a pre-ferment and age it on the counter overnight. At the same time, put together the remaining flour and water and allow them to age overnight. The next day, put them together and proceed to make the bread.”
    Industrial bread fermentation takes less than an hour. Presumably the longer fermentation allows reduction or elimination of the lectins in the wheat like gluten and WGA.

    I wasn’t aware of that. Interesting.

  38. Christina Stone

    When I was in France I didn’t see anyone eating large quanities of food. Once when I was at McDonalds I saw teenage boys with small fries and a regular hamburger leave without finishings them, and at breakfast, it didn’t seem anyone ate very much. I was shocked how thin the people were, how much they walked and biked. Its such a different lifestyle. I was the heaviest woman I think in all of France weighing in at about 155 lbs-in PA I’m about average. And everyone knew I was American-though it could have also been my complete lack of fasion sense.

  39. Ben_P

    Regarding McDougall, protein intake of 300g/day is not uncommon for bodybuilders and they’re not keeling over. Also his reason #6 is exactly the opposite for me. My digestion issues went away when I cut back on carbs. I have figured out that I have the most trouble with potatoes and pasta. Much less stinky gas with less carbs for me.

    Juvenile tone and possibly NSFW plus a bodybuilding slant, but this is a decent article on the subject of protein intake:

    This is pretty good too:

    Decent articles, although I noticed the second one promotes the idea that saturated fat is bad. (I skimmed the first because it employs my least-favorite design choice: bright text on a black background. Many of us with middle-aged eyes have a hard time with that combination.)

  40. Greg

    Hi, I just wanted to ask if ALL saturated fat is healthy, or only a select few like saturated fat from breast milk and coconut oil (because of the MCFA). Because I’ve been consuming high fat, cholesterol and protein pork rinds with high sodium and only 1g of carbs. I also binged on boiled eggs and chocolate with saturated and trans fat.

    So who exactly is the enemy of our heart’s health? Monounsaturated or polyunsaturated? Because I’ve been told constantly that olive oil and salmon are heart friendly, yet are mostly mono and poly. Is FatHead against high-carb diets or fat that isn’t saturated? I’m confused.

    Natural fats are good for you. That would include olive oil, coconut oil, and saturated fats that come from animals, including beef fat, lard, eggs and butter. Animal fats aren’t all saturated, either. Lard, for example, is nearly half monosaturated. The saturated fats in beef tallow tend to raise HDL, which is good.

    The bad oils are those that humans didn’t consume until about 100 years ago because they require industrial processing: soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, etc. Those are damaging because they oxidize easily and lead to inflammation. Trans fats are the worst of all. Avoid those whenever possible.

    Inflammation drives heart disease, which is why I also recommend avoiding sugar and starch. High blood sugar inflames your arteries, and high insulin — the body’s response to high blood sugar — adds insult to injury by encouraging thickening of the arteries. Sugars and starches also encourage your body to produce the small, dense form of LDL, which can penetrate the wall of the artery. Large, fluffy LDL doesn’t do that.

  41. Gerald

    A very amusing post with a host of interesting comments as well. Tom, your ideas on diet sound very much in line with what Dr. Diana Schwarzbein recommends in her healthy lifestyle books (The Schwarzbein Princicple). My wife and I have just begun implementing these diet principles with great results already. It was a little difficult at first to get over our culture’s indoctrination that saturated fats are bad for your health, but it was even more difficult to reduce our sugar consumption drastically. Sugar, in some form or another, is in so many processed foods.

    I’ve found some of the ideas by commenters helpful; portion control, longer meal times, family conversation, fruit platters for dessert, emphasis on quality, a more active lifestyle . . . I like them all! Thanks everyone!

  42. rob

    Very amusing post, nice work 🙂
    High sugar consumption will be the death of the human race!
    Nothing beats natural whole foods. Get on it and get ready to feel amazing!

  43. Alex

    I don’t think sugar is the culprit alone, humans have been eating honey,brown sugar (the real kind), and maple syrup I believe for centuries.

    Sugar is often used as an excuse by those saying “uuuh it’s not the whole wheat bread its the sugar”.

    The french eat a lot of sugar too, the difference is that they eat fat with the sugar which builds satiety.

    Every hear the phrase “I don’t want to eat that because its too heavy”, but if your nibbling on potato chips you don’t hear that phrase.

    Yes, south indians have the highest rate of heart disease AND diabetes in the world, and they probably have the lowest meat consumption in the world, while it is true that they are “lacto-vegans” the lacto is a bit misleading because many south indians are in fact lactose intolerant, so its not like many of them of drinking lots of milk, and cheese in india is usually limited to paneer not like Europe where cheese is king as a staple of cuisine.

    Also folks like dr bernstein, who hasn’t eaten fruit in 40 years but in near-perfect health for his age, cast doubt on fruits, just because its natural doesn’t mean its good for you,is arsenic natural,or salmonella? Not saying everyone needs to avoid fruit but its not the gateway to health as folks believe.

    1. Siafu Linux

      I’ve just been thinking about the combination of fats and sugars that may make a difference. I was looking at all these diets and thinking about the French who, it seems, consume a large combination of both (I’m not saying insane amounts but…).

      Then I read your comment and believe you’ve hit the nail on the head, satiety!

      You cannot just say “they eat less at meals” with “no snacking in between” but are somehow completely satisfied with this with no “need” to snack in between or to eat larger amounts? How are they doing this? Why doesn’t a supposed lack of food not bother them?

      And then… you said it. I also wonder with the glucose-fat (Randle) cycle if there’s something metabolic involved but I could be very wrong here.

  44. Ashkar

    Adding to what Alex said above, Iam from south India and.. we have very high rate of heart attack and diabetes.

    Many are vegetarians (not vegans) in here, they do consume diary products very much. we dont have much of a cheese culture though, many of them drink tea or coffee like twice a day with sugar.

    staple foods are mainly formed of grains with vegetables, especially rice and wheat.
    in india price matters, and quantity/price takes over quality at any given time. except for those who are educated about food and health.

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