The French paradox is the catchphrase frequently used to summarize the apparently paradoxical epidemiological observation that French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), while having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats, in apparent contradiction to the widely held belief that the high consumption of such fats is a risk factor for CHD.
The paradox is that if the thesis linking saturated fats to CHD is
valid, the French ought to have a higher rate of CHD than comparable
countries where the per capita consumption of such fats is lower.
The French paradox implies two important possibilities. The first is
that the hypothesis linking saturated fats to CHD is not completely
valid (or, at the extreme, is entirely invalid). The second possibility
is that the link between saturated fats and CHD is valid, but that some
additional factor in the French diet or lifestyle mitigates this
risk—presumably with the implication that if this factor can be
identified, it can be incorporated into the diet and lifestyle of other
countries, with the same lifesaving implications observed in France.
Both possibilities have generated considerable media interest, as well
as some scientific research.
It has also been suggested that the French paradox is an illusion,
created in part by differences in the way that French authorities
collect health statistics, as compared to other countries, and in part
by the long-term effects, in the coronary health of French citizens, of
changes in dietary patterns which were adopted years earlier.