Is The French Diet Still A Good Diet?

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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. You mentioned something that I don’t understand, which is drinking alcohol and its taboos. When I was in Denmark, they sold beer at the university cafeteria! And when I was in the Czech Republic, I liked the fact that I could buy a can of beer and drink it while walking to the next museum, as it was hot in the middle of the summer! I don’t understand what the early Americans were thinking that they thought alcohol is bad for you, to the extent that they even experimented with Prohibition, and now, you can’t consume alcohol on the street.

    • I don’t think alcohol needs to be a taboo but at the same time, I do think French drink too much. The “it’s cultural” excuse is sometimes… just an excuse.

  2. I’ve never seen McDo’s as full as those in Paris, I mean even in down-town Montreal they’re always half-empty. Plus, right now hamburgers are quite fashionable.

    I could never get over the fact that in French restaurant side dishes are almost always fries.

    At home we have solved the problem by not eating a lot or eating in “ethnic” restaurants.

    I also had to teach my BF that you don’t have to put lard or any kind of far on veggies! Who knew 😉

    You also have a point about alcohol!

    • I’m with you! It’s funny to see school-aged kids with their teacher taking a trip to Mcdonald’s too. I think the first time I went there was with my school when I was 7 or 8! Not exactly a cultural outing, is it!

  3. Hi ZHu!!!! 🙂 Hope you are well and fine ;D

    I think there will always be unhealthy all over the places and it is up to us to eat healthy and nutritional food. I have some American friends who came over and they are ‘converted’ to healthier choice 🙂

  4. In fact, drinking on the street (or at least publics parks) is illegal in France, I saw lots of young people being told by the police 😉 But it’s not as taboo than down in the US, I agree!
    I still think traditionnal fat > mc donald’s fat. And I’m the first one to be sad that fast food is now taking so much room, I’m pretty conservative about food.

    • I think I have yet to see someone being IDed when buying cigarettes or alcohol in France. And when it comes to drinking, Brittany is worse than a lot of places!

  5. There was something on the news recently about ketchup being “outlawed” in French high schools, but the kids still seemed to love it. (Maybe because it was forbidden)

    Fast food is fine and everything as long as there aren’t a slew of really unhealthy ones together with no other options. That’s when people tend to make bad choices and obesity goes on the rise.

    • Funny thing is, ketchup is France (and in Latin America, as far as I know) tastes different than in Canada. It’s more sour than sweet!

      You are right, French still have a lot of healthy options around. Like in Canada, I guess.

  6. 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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