But it seems these stereotypes aren't quite as true as they might once have been, according to a new study by the French national agency of food and health safety ANSES
The study published on Tuesday, which comes out every seven years, shows that:
The French are eating too many pizzas, quiches and industrial ready-meals
French people aren't eating enough fibre and taking in too much salt
The French are turning in droves to food supplements to complement their diet
They are eating more raw meat and fish, which comes with “risks”
AND – their fridges are not cold enough!
And as result of worsening dietary habits it's no surprise that obesity is on the rise in France.
The number of 15-17 year-olds classed as “obese” has risen by six percent since 2007 and for adults obesity levels have gone up by five percent.
Overall, 55 percent of French men and 47 percent of French women are either overweight or obese due to changes in diet as well as lifestyle factors, such as the fact that people tend to be more sedentary, making the issue something of a public health crisis.
Like many other Western nations a big part of the problem is that the French are increasingly falling prey to the temptation of ready-made foods, something people don't usually associate with France.
Nevertheless, the popularity of pizzas, quiches, sandwiches and industrially-made ready meals that are full of salt, sugar and additives, and require nothing more than a quick blast in the microwave is on the rise.
In general, the French aren't eating enough fibrous foods, including vegetables, fruits and pulses, like beans and lentils.
The report also notes the explosion in the consummation of food supplements, perhaps to make up for their increasingly bad diets.
Whether it's for weight issues, colds, joint pain or digestion problems, more and more French are turning to vitamins, minerals and plant extracts to solve it, with the demand for food supplements and vitamins rising by 30 percent in seven years.
The industry is now worth some €1.6 billion. While supplements sold in pharmacies are not dangerous, the French have been warned about what they buy online.
ANSES is also concerned by the rise in the popularity of raw meat and fish, like the traditional steak tartare and sushi, which comes it points out is not without risks, as it can lead to people getting salmonella and other bacterial infections.
When it comes to eating habits, men are eating less healthily than women, the ANSES study shows. The diet for French males tends to include more meat, fewer fruits and vegetables, more cheese and more fizzy drinks and alcohol.
According to the survey, French women have been more receptive to dietary advice, with females eating more soups, white meat and yoghurts.
However, they do eat less fish and pulses like white beans and lentils than men.
The report also showed that there is a societal difference in typical diets with middle managers or executives (known as cadres in French) generally eating better than blue-collar and manual workers in France.
Another more peculiar problem highlighted by the survey is that the French are not keeping their fridges at a low enough temperature which is leaving them vulnerable to bacteria like listeria.
The recommended temperature is 4C but a whopping 44 percent of French people keep their fridges at a balmy 6C or higher.
On top of this, the French are ignoring the “consume by” dates on refrigerated products. And while this might not be so much of a problem for yoghurts, ANSES is worried by the number of people who are ignoring the instructions on meat products.