The French Paradox

The above named phenomena was the discovery of the century. Well, in relation to wine related discoveries at least.

To surmise, it refers to the discovery that drinking red wine is good for your health. A small discovery yet a monumental one. If we go more into the detail, it will lead us into the magnificent world of polyphenols, antioxidants, and most of all, to the French South West.

Despite it is being exceptionally delicious, in theory the French rural cuisine is a dangerous joy. It contains all the nasty materials doctors and healthcare organisations have been witch hunting, excommunicating for years. Salt, saturated fat of animal origin, and all that jazz. It is pure evil from the heart surgeons point of view. The French consume 200% more butter 60% more pork, and 70% more cheese than Americans – and yet they suffer sufficiently less coronary disease.

How do these jolly old men sitting around in the cafe house in the French countryside do it? They are enjoying a glass of this or that, happily puffing smoke, eating plates of cassoulet, that would easily feed the entire SWAT team of the Tokyo police for a whole week. In theory these folks should all be dead long ago. And they are not. They are pretty much alive, enjoying the good things of life, and not really giving a damn for the rest.

Serge Renaud, a hearth surgery professor of the University of Bordeaux spent about 10 years studying this phenomena. He picked one of the most endangered areas of France and took a careful look around in the mortality statistics. What he discovered was that despite an absolutely rich and risky diet, the cases of coronary heart disease were significantly lower to those found in other countries and areas.

His conclusion however, was even more shocking. He came to conclude that it was what was consumed in hand with these rich foods – red wine.  Red wine is full of stuff to neutralize the bad cholesterol and all the the saturated fats. The skin of the red grape is full of antioxidants and color materials, that are all there to protect the pulp. If they get into your body through a good glass of red wine, they are protecting you. Things like resveratrol, procyanidins and other polyphenols.

Procyanids are a great protector for you against cancer, but you need to consume around 20 litres of wine a day to get to the right effect. In a way, it would be a really ‘happy’ way to a health conscious life, but it does not seems to be that practical. The most health benefit come from the procyanidins, that are actually present in a large enough concentration in a moderate amount of wine, and are good to protect the blood vessels. The alcohol in this moderate quantities also helps to neutralize the bad cholesterol, but note the word ‘moderate’.

It seems like that the vineyards in the South West, especially around the wine region of Madiran yield grapes that are really high in these substances. The wines from these regions are particularly good for you. The right quantity of high tannin content (this is when you feel a red wine particularly dry) shows you the presence of these beneficial substances. Great isn’t it?

When the results were published it had a massive effect. Especially in the US where for some funny reason everyone wants to live forever. Red wine consumption jumped up with 44%. Some winemakers were lobbying for a license to write “health product” on their bottles. Everyone was planting grapes claimed to be high in the good substances, like Merlot. As well as other madnesses, this one faded away as well.

Ever since it was published, many people scientists attacked the French Paradox, saying that it gives a way too simplified solutions. They are right up to a certain level: low stress, a bit more wholesome eating culture, the smaller portions are certainly factors of why you find higher age expectancy in these areas. And we all know you cannot simply blame food for heart disease. Whether it is the holy grail of heart surgery or not, take refuge in the thought that there is no harm, and potentially great benefit for having a glass or two with lunch or dinner.

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