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The French Diet: How can it be used?

As we do monthly, dietitians analyze books and diets to give our users some feedback about them. This month, Marian Marcela reviewed the book: The French Diet by Michel Montignac. Here is what she has to say:

The French Diet pairs low glycemic index carbohydrates with "good" fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega 3 and omega 6 fats. It emphasizes eating "normal portions," instead of the larger portions that many Americans are accustomed to. The book states that "The French Diet isn't a diet. It's more about making satisfying lifestyle choices instead of focusing on depressing food restrictions." This underlying principle is very pertinent, as it is difficult to follow a "diet" that causes one to feel restricted. The French Diet nutrient distribution is 40% carbohydrate (low and very low glycemic index), 30% fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), and 30% protein of total calories.

There are two phases of The French Diet. Phase 1 is intended for weight loss. Phase 2 increase the choices of carbohydrates. The goal of The French Diet is for one to enjoy a delicious deprivation-free diet, while also reducing cholesterol and lowering one's risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and for achieving weight loss.

The author says that "Calories are not the deciding factor in weight gain. Our excess weight is the result of eating foods that trigger metabolic mechanisms that cause our body to store fat." Unfortunately, this statement is not entirely true. Calorie intake is an important factor in weight gain and in weight loss. During Phase 1 of the diet, the goal is to keep the glycemic index of a meal as low as possible without reducing normal carbohydrate intake. The goal is to select only carbohydrates with a low glycemic index.

Foods to avoid in Phase 1 include white flour in all forms (white bread, baked goods, cookies, cakes, crackers, sandwiches, and pizza), potatoes in all forms, white rice, fruit juices, ready-made sauces, store-bought desserts, and frozen dairy products. The foods that are allowed in Phase 1 are all fruits except bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapple, and canned fruits.

Also allowed are all vegetables, 100% whole-grain bread, 20% fiber whole-grain crisp bread, oat bran, whole-grain flakes (without sugar), chicken breast, low fat cottage cheese, most fish, unsweetened yogurt, tea, soy milk, 1% milk, coffee, decaf coffee, and cocoa with a minimum 70% cacao.

The food selections of the diet that are allowed appear adequate and the recipes sound tasty. Unfortunately none of the recipes in the book have a nutrient breakdown of carbohydrates, calories, or fat which is the information someone with diabetes or hypertension need to make the right decisions.

  1. Eat three meals a day at regular times: a balanced breakfast, a large lunch, and a light dinner.
  2. Never skip a meal, especially lunch.
  3. Make sure meals are nutritionally balanced (30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrate).
  4. Eat only until you are full.
  5. Use only omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, and monounsaturated fats.
  6. Breakfast should consist only of carbohydrates with a glycemic index of 50 or less, and only unsaturated fat.
  7. Lunch should contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  8. Dinner is similar to lunch, but lighter, with little fat and mainly carbohydrates, with a glycemic index of 50 or less.
  9. Limit wine or champagne to one glass and drink it at the end of the meal.
  10. Avoid strong coffee

A disadvantage of this diet recommendation of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 is that the carbohydrates are not balanced per meal. The author suggests more carbohydrates at breakfast and dinner and less at lunch. In addition, the size of "one glass" of wine or champagne is not specified. Alcohol is high in calories. For a person with diabetes, alcohol can result in low blood glucose at an unpredictable time.

One advantage of this diet is the advice given by the author that you should keep a record of what is eaten for the first week of the diet to keep track of the nutritional balance of the meals and to identify any "weak" points in the diet. Keeping a record of what one eats is always beneficial for weight control and for blood sugar control.

An overview of Phase 2 of the diet increases the choice of carbohydrates. The phase includes two glasses of wine with dinner without specifying the glass size, and the phase also allows an "occasional" rich dessert.

The general principles and ideas of the French Diet appear sensible and the total distribution of carbohydrate, protein, and fat is adequate. Unfortunately The French Diet refers to the previous Food Guide Pyramid, which has been revised since the book was written.

According to Marian, this diet may be appropriate for someone who does not have diabetes but wishes to reduce his or her weight, blood cholesterol and risk for type 2 diabetes. You would have to understand the glycemic index and have the time to continually refer to the glycemic index tables to actually practice the diet. Most importantly, this diet may not be appropriate for a person with diabetes, as no consideration is given to balancing carbohydrate intake per meal, which is especially important if the person with diabetes is taking diabetes medication or insulin.

Remember, if you want to follow this diet, use to track the foods you eat and always look at your daily intake to achieve the right balance of nutrients.

More information on the Glycemix Index: http://www.glycemicindex.com/

Adapted by Editorial Staff, January, 2006
Last update, August 2008

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