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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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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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