The French Canadian Paradox
As many of you know, I love Quebec. I am currently in Montreal enjoying the colourful sights, sounds, and smells. I am sure you are aware of the French Paradox? Much research has been done of late to try and understand how people living in France are generally less obese, have lower rates of type 2 diabetes, and lower rates of many cardiovascular diseases when compared with North Americans. The paradox is that the French are well known for smoking more, consuming wine with at least two meals a day, and eating foods with saturated fats like butter and cream. How is this possible? At face value it appears to contradict everything North American researchers are telling people to do in a effort to combat an ever-growing diabetes and obesity epidemic.
Having been to Quebec several times in the last few years, it appears that the paradox extends to French Canadians as well. My observations are primarily limited to urban environments such as Montreal and Quebec City. Again, the people living in Montreal and Quebec City appear to be leaner. In the many cafes you will see locals smoking and drinking and eating baguettes with cheese and croissants and pastries. They also appear to eat out very regularly. So, how can this be? From my observations I see several distinct habits which may account for the paradox.
Number One: WALK. Everyone walks or rides bikes. You see people walking in groups to lunch or dinner and then walking to another resto for coffee and pastries and then walking home. They also are more likely to walk to and from work. They of course also walk during their many, many protests.
Number Two: Eat slowly and socially. You rarely see anyone dining alone. They appear to be engrossed in animated conversations. The meals never last less than one to two hours. Meals are complete meals including desert and coffee. Wine or beer is often a part of the meal.
Number Three: Never wear clothing that is meant to stretch. You NEVER see people in Montreal wearing Lululemon. There is no lycra and no sweat pants. It seems that they not only are fashion conscious but they know that your jeans and your belt never lie!
Number Four: Relax. When you see French Canadians walking or eating, they appear comfortable. Rarely do you see anybody running – they walk and they do so in the company of friends or loved ones. They spend time in the many parks and ambling through the many museums. They seem somehow, less neurotic about diet and exercise and the future.
So it seems to me that the paradox is really not so paradoxical when you look at it closely. They eat slowly, they get regular exercise, they are less stressed, and they eat whatever they want! I love the fact that you NEVER see a “gluten free” menu or that phrase anywhere! People literally line up for bagels and baguettes everyday. From babies to the elderly – they love white bread. How is it that as soon as you leave Quebec, there is mass hysteria about gluten? Maybe, just maybe, the bilingualism has some protective effect on the mucosa of the gut? Food for thought n’est-ce pas?