What Is The French Paradox?

You’ve probably heard before that a glass of wine or two is healthy for you. Today we want to discover if there is any truth to this, or if it’s just what your Aunt Martha said to justify dipping into her second bottle at Christmas dinner.

The French Paradox

The French Paradox is a phrase coined around the 1980s that referred to a seemingly paradoxical observation that people in France had surprisingly low rates of heart disease when you take into account a relatively high-fat diet. Since it is believed that high amounts of fats, especially saturated fats found in many traditional French foods, is a huge risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), it would make sense that the French would have more instances of CHD. So what is to account for this paradox? There are two possibilities. The first, and most unlikely, is that scientists are wrong about saturated fats being a contributing factor to CHD. The most likely explanation is that there is something about the French lifestyle or diet that counteracts this risk. Considering that you’re currently on a website dedicated to wine prints and gifts for wine lovers, you can probably guess what this “French lifestyle” incorporates. Hint: It’s wine. Red wine, in particular.

The French Diet

Research from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations offers some insightful data into this paradox. Research from 2002 showed that the average American consumed 72 grams of fat from animals per day, while the average French person consumed 108 grams per day. Most of these additional grams are in the form of butter, cheese, and pork, whereas Americans typically consume fats in the form of vegetable oil, an unsaturated fat. Even though Americans typically eat less saturated fat, they have a higher risk of death from CHD.

Red Wine

People in France on average drink significantly more wine than those in America. To put this into perspective, according to The Wine Institute, of all the wine consumed in a given year, the United States accounts for 13.4%. France comes in second place with 11%. It is important to remember that France has a population of 66 million people, five times less than America. By liters of wine per year, this translates to about 42.5 liters of wine per person per year in France, and just 10.25 liters of wine per year for Americans.

So what is it about wine, and red wine in particular, that has scientists making the connection between high wine consumption and low rates of coronary heart disease? There are a few explanations, all of which have to do with certain elements found in red wine.

  • Alcohol: Of course, alcohol in wine may be the first explanation. However, alcohol consumption per capita is higher in other countries than it is in France and America, so this explanation doesn’t have a lot of roots.
  • Resveratrol: Red wine is a good source of resveratrol, an organic compound believed to, in high doses, help fight diseases and aging.

Is The French Paradox Real?

While there are known health benefits of drinking red wine in moderation, it is inconclusive whether or not red wine does anything to combat coronary heart disease. The real reasons for lower CHD in France may be due to their consumption of whole foods and vegetables, rather than the fast foods that we love so much in America, as well as smaller portions of home cooked foods.  

So What Are The Health Benefits Of Wine?

Don’t worry - we aren’t going to leave you empty-handed. There are definitely some well-accepted health benefits of drinking one to two glasses of red wine per day. People who drink this much wine each day (and no, more is not better), had lower risks of colon and head cancers, less age-related memory loss, and some heart diseases. Most of this is due to the levels of resveratrol found in red wines. All of these findings are tentative, and too much of a good thing can lead to major health problems - so in the end, do what your body and doctor tell you to.

Love Wine? So Do We!

We love wine, and prefer to lean towards the research that says it’s good for you. If you know someone who is in need of a wine-themed gift or print, check out the Wine Math poster or Wine Eye Chart poster from the Jan Davidson Collection. These wine enthusiast gifts will make everyone appreciate the goodness that goes into each bottle even more!