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FRENCH FOOD

HEALTH

The delicious French foods that are also surprisingly healthy

Have you ever wondered how the French stay so slim and live for a long time despite their love of wine and pastries? Catherine Edwards discovers the health benefits behind some classic Gallic grub.

The delicious French foods that are also surprisingly healthy
Photo: AFP

While scoffing crepes and croissants is clearly not a good idea if you want to stay in fine fettle, it is a good idea to chomp on French gastronomy, given that so much of it contains some surprising health benefits (if eaten in moderation of course).

Here's a list of ten classic Gallic dishes or ingredients that you don't need to avoid.

Choucroute


Photo: stu_spivack/Flickr

This Alsace specialty, usually prepared with salted meats and potatoes, has plenty of health benefits. It has long been used to treat stomach ulcers and canker sores and soothes the digestive tract. It’s also packed with vitamins, fibre, calcium, iron and magnesium. But not all choucroute is created equal; canned or pre-packaged options are less likely to preserve the vitamins and antioxidants.

Escargot


Photo: Wilson Hui/Flickr

Many foreigners balk at the idea of eating snails, but it’s time to get over the fear of the slimy gastropods, because they are a healthy alternative to other meats. They’re a low-calorie, high-protein choice, with omega-3 fatty acids thought to reduce heart disease risk.

They’re packed with extra nutrients and minerals, and usually enjoyed with garlic butter (see the final item of the list). In fact, they’re so good for you that snail slime is increasingly being used in beauty products too, as it is thought to make skin softer and more elastic.

Frogs’ legs


Photo: Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

Like snails, this traditional French delicacy is higher in protein but lower in fat than other meats including chicken. And frogs' legs are packed with the same omega-3 fatty acids, as well as potassium and vitamin A. Just be careful what you cook them in, as some sauces contain more salt than you might think.

Mirabelle plums


Photo: See-ming Lee/Flickr

Small but mighty, Mirabelle plums contain antioxidants which lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Their name comes from the Latin mirabilis, meaning ‘wondrous’, and they live up to their name with a large dose of nutrients and minerals including iron, potassium and vitamins A and C which help skin, eyes and are even thought to protect against lung cancer.

Dijon mustard


Photo: Patrick Gaudin/Flickr

Attempts at healthy eating are often thwarted by high-fat condiments, which often have a much higher salt and sugar content than we realize. Dijon mustard, however, is extremely low in both fat and sugar, making it a low-calorie option compared to ketchup, mayonnaise or other sauces.

Red wine

Photo:
 Lori Branham/Flickr

Moderate consumption of red wine is said to reduce the risk of depression, breast and colon cancer, heart disease and obesity, all thanks to a compound called resveratrol. We’ll drink to that.

Oysters


Photo: Tim Evanson/Flickr

Here's yet another food that’s worth getting over your squeamishness for; oysters are rich in vitamins (C and B-12) and minerals (zinc, selenium and iron) as well as being high in protein and low in fat. They have been linked to weight loss, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure – and that’s not to mention their supposed aphrodisiac properties.

French cheese


Photo: MilStan/Flickr

Mouldy cheeses, particularly southern French specialty Roquefort, have anti-inflammatory properties which could help guard against obesity and cardiovascular problems, making them a healthy choice for your heart – despite the high fat content of cheese.

Champagne


Photo: dpotera/Flickr

No need to save it for a special occasion any more – champagne contains antioxidants which are linked to lowering blood pressure, helping your skin, boosting memory and could even stave off dementia. It has fewer calories than wine as well, but experts say one glass a week is all you need to get the benefits. Still, cheers!

Garlic


Photo: Hafiz Issadeen/Flickr

It’s well worth risking bad breath for the long-term health benefits of garlic – did you know it was used for medicine before chefs began adding it to food? It’s incredibly nutritious thanks to a compound called allicin, which is responsible for the distinctive smell and could help fight illnesses from common colds to heart disease. It could also stave off dementia and even improve athletic performance.
 

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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