Nutrition: How French cuisine can help your cycling

If you want to lose weight, dine the Mediterranean way

For decades, scientists have been baffled by the ‘French paradox’ – the apparent disconnect between France’s rich cuisine and slender population.

In fact, the Mediterranean diet is now viewed as one of the healthiest styles of eating to adopt. Despite wolfing down cream, oils, cheese and meat, just 10 percent of French adults are obese, compared with 24 percent of British adults and over 30 percent of Americans. 

But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all about drinking red wine – there’s a lot more to it. The Mediterranean style of eating is typically abundant in protein-rich meats and fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, yet low in sugary grains and processed foods.

This style of eating results in more stable blood sugar levels than British and American diets dominated by convenience foods, which prevents excess fat being dumped in our cells and arteries.

In fact, a review of 35 studies on the Mediterranean diet has shown favourable effects on lipoprotein levels, insulin resistance, cardiovascular mortality and cancer incidence. 

While the French may love their cheese, they also love their nuts, seeds, olives and seafood, which supply healthy fats shown to protect against cardiovascular disease.

These ‘good’ fats also reduce inflammation – great for anyone with injuries, joint problems or allergy-type reactions.  And if you want to keep cycling into old age, research has shown that among individuals aged 70 to 90 years, adherence to a Mediterranean diet and healthy lifestyle is associated with a more than 50 percent lower rate of all causes of mortality.

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the wine. Wine contains a rich mix of cardio-protective nutrients. These include salicylates, which have an anti-platelet effect, and ethanol, which can cause the blood vessels to dilate and help reduce blood pressure.

Red wine also contains a mix of flavonoids that reduce free radical formation and the risk of thrombosis. These also raise HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) and inhibit LDL oxidation in the arteries. The benefits appear greater when you drink it like the French – in small amounts with meals.      

But the French paradox involves much more than just the type of food. Recent studies have shown that smaller portion sizes in France may explain why they can seemingly eat mussels drenched in garlic butter and still stay slim.

In fact, on average they consume far fewer calories than we do. This is partly because of their mindful style of eating – the French savour their food. For them, it seems, eating is a life-enriching pleasure, not a chore.

Eating in France is very much a social activity. By taking things more slowly, there’s plenty of time between courses for the body to work out when it’s full. So for them, it’s quality that counts, not quantity.      

British Average Diet (BAD)

  • Sugary sweets and drinks
  • Sausage and egg rolls
  • Sugared tea, white toast and sugary jam
  • Fast foods and ready-meals
  • Crisps and biscuits
  • Processed foods and drinks
  • Lots of beer and wine
  • Trans fats, margarines
  • Salt and ketchup

Parisian-style diet

  • Dark chocolate
  • Lean meats, fish and seafood – more protein, less carbohydrate
  • Local cheeses and hams, and small portions of breads and pastries
  • Homemade meals, smaller portions
  • Olives, nuts, seeds and dried fruits
  • Plenty of local fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Small amounts of red wine with meals
  • Butter and olive oil
  • Garlic, herbs, citrus juices and vinegars for flavouring

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