As I looked over the book review section of the Wall Street Journal this morning, I came across the face of Mireille Guiliano, the author of a book titled “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” which appeared to much acclaim nine years ago. Her newest book, “Meet Paris Oyster” is an interesting work which calls attention to her passion for eating well, staying thin, and encouraging fellow women to do the same.
As usual, Ms. Guiliano offers loads of advice, recipes, and tips about eating, drinking (especially Champagne), and staying thin. Although there is some repetitive advice, there is a freshness throughout the book. Ms. Guiliano, who is the CEO of Clicquot Champagne, is a strong-willed, accomplished woman, who has managed to stay thin and chic while continuing to eat what she wants with great pleasure and drinking champagne with her meals daily.
There is a 10 percent obesity rate among French women compared to 30 percent of U.S. women. When Ms. Guiliano left Paris to attend college in Boston and returned 25 pounds heavier, her father said she looked like a “sack of potatoes.” She was turned over to a very wise family doctor who started her on detox regimen, kept her on a lentil broth diet for a week, and taught her the principles of self-discipline and the pleasures of food. In the process, Ms. Guiliano learned about love, self-expression, pleasure, and devotion. She learned about the pleasure of cooking, reducing salt and sugar, exercising, and balancing her diet.
Ms. Guiliano has written several books since her first one. The newest book emphasizes the “miracle” of eating oysters as a health food. In her other works, she has noted the merits of French fried sweet potatoes, spaghetti carbonara, croque monsieur, smoked salmon, Jarlsburg cheese, brioche, caviar, ratatouille, and chocolate mousse. No one can review that list and accuse her of not eating a wonderful variety of foods, which alone and in large quantities could certainly contribute to being overweight. Unusual recipes such as pasta and anchovies, spinach with pine nuts, and pasta with eggplant and tuna show up in her writings.
Along with these she notes that a half dozen oysters only amount to 60-70 calories. She also believes soup should be part of everyone’s diet. It’s filling and nutritious, and she eats it 4-5 times a week. She does not weigh herself or snack and would never give up bread or fruit. To add spice to her writings, she notes that French women think that love is also slimming. Basically, she advocates using all “five senses” in cooking and dining.
When one knows the French culture as well as Ms. Guiliano and understands daily nutrition both in the U.S. and France, we should lend an eager ear to what she is saying. When I hear about other popular diets, I compare them to the Zone diet, which is the one I follow. The Zone emphasizes a balance of food groups and insulin control to suppress inflammation, keeping you free from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and debilitating osteoarthritis with joint deterioration. Ms. Guiliano correctly notes that bread with butter, oysters, and champagne, followed by fruit and a cheese wedge provide a good balance of carbs (bread & fruit), protein (oysters), and fat (butter and cheese). The oysters have minerals including zinc, which is good for a better immune system, wound healing, and libido.
As a frequent visitor of France and especially Paris over the years, I have had multiple opportunities to dine with French friends in their homes. They focus with pleasure on their small portions, delectable food choices, and high nutrient density of the food, including the dessert choices. Of course, we all know that the wonderful French red wines are loaded with resveratrol, a highly nutrient component which helps to extend life and reduce heart disease. Champagne adds a certain sense of elegance to dining and stimulates the digestive juices, which also adds in digestion.
Ms. Guiliano continues to espouse her thoughts regarding the low-fat diet and how highly processed low-fat foods have contributed to obesity in this country. Interestingly, from a nutritional point of view, she hits the nail on the head as the low-fat craze has increased obesity in this country even while being touted as a “healthy approach” to dieting. The real truth is that artificially saturated fats (such as hydrogenated soybean oil) are clearly a cause of heart disease and other inflammatory diseases. Recently, the American Heart Association reversed its 50-year objection to natural saturated fats just as they previously did with eggs and nuts.
As always, we have to mesh old ideas with new and be willing to change at least part of our approach to eating and accept the fact that self-discipline and exercise do not have to make us miserable. With the Zone diet and good champagne and oysters, we should be able to stay both happier and healthier in 2015!
Dr. Carraway is the director of the Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300 for more information.