Investigating The French Paradox in 4 Easy Steps
Written by Maeve Cushen
A phenomenon explored since the 1980’s1 and remains topical in current research2, The French Paradox relates to the rich diets enjoyed by French people and the seemingly paradoxically low rates of diet related chronic disorders. Mireille Guiliano’s bestseller “French Women Don’t Get Fat” won critical acclaim for presenting these secrets for slimmers to exploit.
We decided to investigate this issue further. The latest French consumption survey and food composition data have now been added to Creme Nutrition® and are now available are ready-to-use for all of our clients. This means that you can interrogate the secrets of current French eating habits at a population level and examine nutritional scenarios in our easy-to-use analytical models, using the most up-to-date data available.
Step one: examine Body Mass Index (BMI) values across the French population to see if the book’s claim is actually true.
BMI is a numerical relationship between human weight and height and is strongly correlated with the gold-standard methods for measuring body fat. Individuals in the healthy range have BMI values between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2, overweight individuals have BMI values from 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 and obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher. A population’s BMI values can be easily compared to the same measurements in other countries within Creme Nutrition® to see if there is a difference. In this example, we have compared the BMI values of French adults (Figure 1) to their UK neighbours (Figure 2).
Figure 1: BMI among French Adults
Figure 2: BMI among U.K. Adults
Step two: ascertain the French consumption habits and in combination with food composition data, nutritional intakes can be quantified.
Total fat intakes <35% energy intake may be compatible with both good health and normal body weight. Since the consumption and food composition data is pre-installed in Creme Nutrition®, these refinements can be easily achieved with a few clicks.
Step three: compare nutritional intakes in France to the UK.
Alternatively, you can easily compare the nutritional intakes of France to corresponding demographics in Ireland, Netherlands, North America, Brazil, Mexico or China in Creme Nutrition®. Other interesting analyses to explore would be Alcohol intake or Saturated Fatty Acid intake.
Limit analysis (Figure 3) was conducted on the French and UK assessments to assess the percentage of the population above the recommended intakes for fats. From this, it was found that over 63% of French adults (and 69% of French children) are exceeding the Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for fats put forward by the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) 2010, whereas only 40% of Adults in the UK exceed this upper limit (fat intakes <35% energy intake). This is despite the greater prevalence of overweight and obesity (as determined by BMI values ≥ 25 and ≥ 30 respectively) found in the UK population compared to the French population.
Figure 3: Creme Nutrition® Limit Analysis tool
And for bonus points; step four: run various reformulation, portion size and food replacement scenarios in Creme Nutrition® to find the best ways of improving the diets of other countries to match the French diet!
Nutritional intakes by food type, food category, time of day, portion size, age and gender (as well as other population identifiers, if required) can be analysed in isolation or in combination with others.
If you would like more information on Creme Nutrition®, please contact us. We can even provide a free one-hour introductory tutorial webinar to get you started, if required.
1 http://heart.bmj.com/content/90/1/107.full Accessed July 2015
2 Zheng H, Yde CC, Clausen MR, Kristensen M, Lorenzen J, Astrup A, Bertram HC. Metabolomics Investigation To Shed Light on Cheese as a Possible Piece in the French Paradox Puzzle. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2015; 63 (10); 2830–39.
3 Gallagher D, Visser M, Sepulveda D, Pierson RN, Harris T, Heymsfield SB. How useful is body mass index for comparison of body fatness across age, sex, and ethnic groups? Am. J. Epidemiol. 1996; 143:228–39.
4 World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. Fact sheet Number 311. January 2015. Accessed June 2015
5 EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3):1461. [107 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1461. Available online: www.efsa.europa.eu