Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Monday 14 March 2011

The French Don't Get Fat? Part 3: Food Guides

(Photo: From a saucisson market we stumbled upon near the Loire Valley/Kerry MacGregor)

In looking at the different ways that the French (from France) and Canadians eat, I figured that the best place to start would be the food guides that the two countries produce. Many people don't follow these at all, but for the purpose of my very basic education on how to eat in France (as a Canadian), I thought they'd provide a good baseline.

The Canada Food Guide is something I mostly heard about in 80s, often in Participaction fitness commercials or in school. I didn't hear as much about it as an adult. And, I'm not sure what kids are hearing about it now. But, it's updated all the time and it's got some cool web features these days. (ie. Their site links to this eatTracker)

In France, I heard about their food guide from one of the posters that was up in the doctor's office -- where I was waiting to get a physical to see how my body had dealt with my new French diet up until now. So far, so good is what I think the doctor said. At least, I'm sure that she was smiling.

The main aspect to think about in comparing the two guides, I should point out, is that they're geared to people who simply have different foods to chose from. That's part of my adaptation problem, of course, so I'm not sure the complete solution will be found in this comparison. In Canada, the government puts out a separate food guide for the First Nations, Inuit and Métis to accommodate their particular diets. I think that's the sort of thing an expat from Canada needs when it comes to eating in France.

So, first the summary, then the experiment!

What's the same

General rules
-Healthy eating = balance (that can be in one meal, throughout the day, or over the span of a week)
-Your brain needs 20 minutes to know your stomach is full
-If you skip meals, your body will go into famine mode and will start stockpiling calories the next time you eat
-drink as much water as you want

What's best
In both Canada and France, we're told we should pick low sugar, whole grains, low fat, low salt... the same old, same old. Here's Canada's list. And here are France's lists for fat, salt, and sugar.

What's different

The French lean how to eat together. (The guide even includes a lesson on setting the table!)
Canadians like to eat out and often look for quick and easy meals.

In Canada, snacking is a must to keep yourself from feeling hungry.
In France, snacking is for emergencies. Otherwise, you're only supposed to eat your three meals.

There's a lot of detail here so I'll just show what it would be for a woman in my age bracket. If anyone would like to look up another age, click on the "more" links at the end of each country section.

Note: some of the serving sizes vary between the two countries. For instance... Green beans: Canada - 125 mL, 1⁄2 cup, France - 1 handful; Yogurt: Canada - 175 g, 175 mL, 3⁄4 cup, France - 1 yaourt , 125 g; Fish: Canada - 75 g (2 ½ oz) / 125 mL (½ cup), French - 100 g. Canada's guide also includes servings for foods from a number of different cultural backgrounds that aren't represented in the guide for France.

Fruits and Vegetables - 7-8 (serving portions)
Grain Products - 6-7 (serving portions)
Milk and Alternatives - 2 (serving portions)
Meat and Alternatives - 2 (serving portions)

Fruits and Vegetables - At least 5 (serving portions)
Milk Products - 3 (alternatives not included) (serving portions)
Grain Products - at every meal, amount depending on appetite (options)
Meat, Fish and Eggs - 1-2 (serving portions)
(This list seems to be the same for everyone, but there's still more)

Additional info
Canada Food Guide pdf. (The pretty one we got in school)
Sample French menus.
Sample Canadian menus. (Bottom of page, options for different families.)
Health Canada's make-your-own-diet-online tool.
French food dictionary.
French: different ways of cooking.

THE WHOLE STORY: Check out my new food page.
NEXT TUESDAY: Exercise - France vs. Canada


  1. I am loving this French food series!! Good read!

  2. Oneika: Thanks! I'm considering fully switching over to the French side for a bit, just to see if I can do it (and maybe to observe the effects). Did you try that while you were here?

  3. Wow, amazing detail. Good job.
    I think that should be on your list, switching over to see how things go. I admit that prior to moving to France we switched to the French side. I found it easier as I was too easily lured into snacking even when I wasn't hungry. Does it make a difference? I have my answer; you can find out how it impacts you. Bonne chance!

  4. Kerry: Very interesting. Interesting to hear that you've gone on more hikes in France. So do you agree that you stay more "active" in France then in Canada? In terms of exercise, I'm interested to know. Seems like here we drive everywhere and we hardly get out to walk. Or is it just me?

    And yes, I also agree that you should switch over to the French side and see what difference (if any) it makes...


  5. Tanya, Oneika and Carmen: Shoot. I explained this wrong!

    I HAVE been eating French this whole time, but I was wondering about re-integrating some of my Canadian habits -- some of the ones that I liked. One of those was to break lunch down into three smaller meals throughout the day -- sort of like snacks.

    I ate the French way by default when I came here. And now, I'm looking at whether I should bring back some of the old habits I used to consider healthy in Canada (something I've been trying over the last two months) or whether I should switch back to the French way of eating (intentionally this time).

    When I said I wondered if I could do it and was thinking of switching to the French side for a bit, I meant that I wondered if I could switch again -- this time, with the possibility of letting go of some of my Canadianness for good!

  6. Kerry: Ah...OK. I'd say - go French! Let go of your Canadianness! Try not to have the snacks unless it's for emergency!!!


  7. Kerry: Oh, any St. Paddy's Day celebrations over in Nice????


  8. I don't even like snacking... but I'd become convinced that smaller meals (throughout the day) made for a healthier way of eating. More research required, I think!

  9. LOL! Too funny but I get you now.
    About the snacking thing, I dunno. I guess it depends on what those small meals/snacks are. Hmm, interesting topic. We await your results. :-)

    Here's a blast from the past: "don't just think about it; do it, do it, do it." I loved ParticipAction.

  10. French meal times just didn't jive with my metabolism. I eat heavily in the beginning part of the day and usually end the day with a light dinner . I found that I snacked way more in France eating the French way because the small breakfasts and lunches meant that I was always STARVING- and thus running to Monoprix or Cafe Multari and buying patisseries. Not good for my waistline!