Is The French Diet Still A Good Diet?


Mcdonald’s Bag by a Garbage Can, Nantes, March 2012

French are quick to make fun of the “Amer­i­can diet” and they like to claim how much health­ier they are com­pared to their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. A decade ago, José Bové, the farmer syn­di­cal­ist, was fight­ing against junk food (he famously sacked a McDonald’s fran­chise to make his point) and French would rather have some baguette with stinky cheese than a hamburger.

But the more I walk in Nantes, the more I won­der whether the French diet is still a good diet.

To be hon­est, tra­di­tional French food isn’t exactly light and easy to digest. From the fon­due (melted cheese eaten with bread) to blood sausage, from elab­o­rated sug­ary pas­tries to cooked pork meats, these regional dishes are best not eaten daily.

But these days, French (or at least peo­ple in Nantes) seem to love French fast food restau­rants too. For instance, there are shawarma joints at every street cor­ner and French hap­pily lunch on sea­soned meat cut­tings served in a baguette with French fries and gar­nished with a yogurt sauce. Amer­i­can fast food fran­chises, such as Sub­way, Mcdonald’s and KFC are as pop­u­lar as ever. And there are tons of fran­chised bak­eries, such as La mie câline and Paul, which offer greasy pizza and but­tery pas­tries on-the-go.

Sure, por­tions are less impres­sive than in the U.S. (where por­tions are still notice­ably big­ger than in Canada), and peo­ple do walk a lot. That prob­a­bly explain why French don’t seem to get fat.

Another thing I notice is that a lot of French can’t con­ceive any kind of meal with­out alco­hol. Cana­di­ans are addicted to Star­bucks, Sec­ond Cup or Tim Horton’s and a lot of them drink soda. Yet, I can’t remem­ber when I last saw some­one drink­ing alco­hol at noon in Canada (maybe I’m not around drinkers as well!). In France, drink­ing is sup­pos­edly cul­tural and that excuse alone seems to be a rea­son to indulge more than nec­es­sary. It feels strange to see peo­ple down­ing beer eat­ing Mcdonald’s (yes, Pulp Fic­tion didn’t lie—you can buy beer at Mcdonald’s!). Drink­ing in the street isn’t taboo (or ille­gal) like in Canada, and you can buy alco­hol just about anywhere.

I can under­stand why peo­ple seem to be favour­ing fast food options: food is expen­sive in France, and like in North Amer­ica, eat­ing healthy can be pricey and more dif­fi­cult. Peo­ple are in a hurry and may not have the tra­di­tional two-hour long French break at noon as they used to.

Yet it feels strange to see so much “junk food” in France!



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I’m sur­prised to hear there’s so much junk food in France, I always thought it was more of a North Amer­i­can thing. I know that I would pre­fer tasty French food over a card­board tast­ing ham­burger any day.

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