Ah, the French paradox. People often wonder how the French stay so healthy despite the large amount of bread, cheese, and wine they consume. People claim that it’s because of their portion control. But I came to wonder, why is it that when I go visit my family in France over the summer I eat twice as much as what I eat in the States and still end up losing weight?

American fast food and processed products have also made their way to the European country, and it is not looking good for the French. It’s actually pretty noticeable that the French are getting fatter. The weird thing is that if the portion size idea was valid, they wouldn’t be noticeably affected by the different foods coming to their country. So, here are the real reasons that the French are able to eat the same or bigger portions of non-fast food and stay so healthy.

Lower Sugar Intake


Photo by Jen Hayashi

I don’t know how often it’s been stressed by my whole family that sugar is like poison. They’ve never stressed fat as being the culprit because it simply isn’t. Americans are so terrified of the extra calories associated with fat that they’ll still purchase fat-free yogurts, fat-free dressings, and even fat-free butter.

The problem with this idea is that, the fat is usually replaced with sugar to make up for all of the yummy flavor that’s been lost. Worst of all, having vitamin-packed food that doesn’t have some fat doesn’t allow absorption of those nutrients.

While eating an Activia in the morning in France, I realized that it had the same amount of calories, was a third of the size larger, and had less than half the amount of sugar than an Activia in the States. The amount of sugar our society consumes is astonishing. The average American consumes about 126g of sugar a day, while the average French person consumes about 68g of sugar. That’s almost half—no wonder Americans are packing on those sugary pounds.

Their Produce is Fresher

ugly food

Photo by Sabrina Dorow

I’ve noticed that most cities in France are surrounded by a ton of farmland. I’ve also noticed that the fruit I pick in the market is ready to eat that day. The fruits and vegetables that you pick up at the actual supermarket in France are even better than the produce you get at a farmer’s market in the States. The produce isn’t as polished as it is here—there are some bruises and sometimes flies around the produce in the supermarket—but the quality remains superior.

With that level of freshness comes a much greater satisfaction from eating produce in France. That’s because the fruits and vegetables are picked when they’re full of vitamins and minerals. So, when you eat a peach or an apple, it’s full of flavor and leaves you satisfied with eating a healthy meal, rather than feeling unsatisfied and eating more.

There are Fewer Steroid Hormones

Sous Vide

Photo courtesy of @churrascada on Instagram

This is for all you carnivores out there. Steroid hormones (or basically growth hormones) are used in meat to increase the size of the animal that you’re about to eat. One night in France, my aunt cooked some chickens that were from the farm next door and only about a third of the size of the chickens I see at my local supermarket at home.

Growth hormones are awesome when you’re getting more bang for your buck, but what happens when those chemicals are circulating through your bloodstream? You are what you eat, right? So if that’s the case, you’re eating something that’s making you grow in size. And there is your answer to why, even though you’re eating grilled chicken and veggies, that stubborn five pounds is still sticking around.

It’s no wonder at all that unhealthy foods in the U.S. that have made their way to Europe are causing an increase in the weight of the population there. My advice to you is to avoid all these things that are hidden in the American diet, and to do your best to buy fresh and organic products. But the best part about all of this is that it makes traveling to France so much better and guilt-free.