While the French are known for culinary greatness, French food doesn’t have to be fussy. In fact, the heart of French cooking is to accent fresh, quality ingredients, so their essential flavors and textures stand out. Sure, butter, cream, cheese, and other dietary landmines are mainstays in French cuisine, but they don’t have to take over your plate. French food, it turns out, can also be overwhelmingly healthy. After all, books like French Women Don’t Get Fat and The French Paradox reveal how the French stay fit, healthy and trim while still indulging in mouth-watering, decadent cuisine.
From red wine to mustard, we’ve got the skinny on which French foods are diet-friendly and which should be left in Paris.
Red wine – Scientists believe red wine is the key to the French Paradox, thanks to its high polyphenol content. These disease-fighting chemicals reduce cholesterol, prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure. And recent studies suggest they inhibit inflammation – the culprit at the crux of chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Just keep your imbibing in check. One glass a day if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man have shown health benefits.
Herbs de Provence – Herbs de Provence is a mixture from Provence, a region of France, containing rosemary, basil, thyme, marjoram, bay leaf, savory and sometimes lavender flowers and other herbs. Each of these ingredients boasts unique health benefits. Rosemary is anti-inflammatory, basil has medicinal and antibacterial properties and thyme improves digestion. Put them all together with a few other herbs and you not only have a flavorful seasoning for chicken, fish, scalloped vegetables, even cookies, you have a potent disease-fighter to boot.
Goat cheese – Goat cheese is lower in calories, fat,
cholesterol and sodium than many varieties of cow’s milk cheese, and that makes it good for your heart and your hips. It also boasts high quality protein (that’s more easily digested than cow’s milk cheese), vitamin D, vitamin K and energy-boosting B-vitamins. Delicate in flavor and texture, it’s the perfect addition to salads and vegetable dishes, or as a filling (with caramelized onions) for whole-wheat crepes.
Mustard – You can’t mention French cuisine without mustard. Of course, Dijon mustard with white wine is the standard, but there are other varieties, too. In addition to adding flavor and texture to vinaigrettes, sauces, steaks, pork, seafood, veggies, and anything deemed “French,” mustard is loaded with phytochemicals. In fact, from its beginnings, mustard was considered a medicinal plant, not a food. A bonus: High quality mustard can improve circulation and help neutralize toxins.
Potatoes – Kept away from the deep fryer, potatoes are low in calories and fat and a good source of diet-friendly fiber, potassium and vitamin C – especially if you eat the skin. “French fries” are the American version of the infamous steak frites, which is a seasoned filet served with crisp, salty potato wedges fried to perfection. But the most popular French dishes feature potatoes with cream, butter (best avoided), garlic, salt, pepper and other ingredients, such as anchovies, capers, and yes, goat cheese.
With all of these healthy benefits, it’s no wonder the French stay health, fit and slim. Still, French cuisine’s greatest coup is taste. Fresh caught fish with a dollop of rich sauce; colorful fruits and vegetables seasoned with flavorful herbs; bite-sized portions of sweet desserts – they’re all key components of French cuisine. And instead of downing a burger and “French” fries in record time, the French relax over a several-course meal featuring just a few pomme frites (compared to our supersized model). So, what are you waiting for? Visit a Healthy Dining French restaurant, order a glass of Beaujolais and toast to your health.