A few years ago, I read a book called “French women don’t get fat.” I was curious to learn the real secrets of des Mademoiselles and how they stay lean, happy and fashionable well into retirement.
Contrary to English cynicism, the French woman’s ‘joie de vivre’ is not down to a minimalistic diet, in which a binge would consist of 2 glasses of champagne and 3 caviar blinis.
It’s not even thanks to a secret diet pill not yet made legal in the UK.
The basis of the French woman’s diet is simply to never deny yourselves of the foods you love, but to enjoy them in moderation.
Author Mireille Guiliano writes about how French women consciously think about their meals and exercise regimes, whilst incorporating those tempting sweet treats and higher fat favourites.
For many people, dieting is considered a period of ‘deprivation’. But inevitably, this will end in a late night biscuit tin binge, followed by a guilt ridden trip to the gym or even worse, after having reached your goal weight it’s not long before you’ve slipped back into old habits and have undone all the hard work.
Like every girl, I have the occasional weakness for chocolate, but due to food intolerances, this can make things tricky.
Like most people living with a dairy intolerance, a good dark chocolate above 70% cocoa solids can still be enjoyed in small doses.
Although it’s not low in fat, a good quality dark chocolate contains antioxidants and has proven health benefits such as fending off the menopause for women and can improve cardiovascular health.
When I’m craving a bit of the dark stuff, there are several sweet and savoury recipes which I add a few squares of dark chocolate to.
Dairy free rice pudding
There’s something about making your own rice pudding which makes the dish so much tastier and gratifying.
Pudding rice is cheap and widely accessible to purchase and still cooks brilliantly when made with soya or rice milk.
I often mix in cinnamon, honey and sultanas, but you can achieve a whole different flavour by melting in a few squares of Green and Black’s dark chocolate with raspberries or ginger.
The pudding is really filling and so much better for you than a full fat, ready made version which contains unnecessary sugars. I have never seen a pre-made dairy free version either, so get mixing!
Crème de marrons avec chocolat
I only recently heard of this sweet French favourite ‘chestnut spread’ and after discovering a jar of chestnut paste at the back of my cupboard, I decided to make a healthier, dairy free version to satisfy my cravings for a certain chocolate hazelnut spread.
Place 200g of cooked chestnuts or chestnut paste in a pan and pour in soya cream until the chestnuts are almost covered. Add 2 tbsp brown sugar and a vanilla pod, sliced lengthways.
Simmer the mixture in a pan for ten minutes before melting in a few squares of dark chocolate.
Hand blend until the mixture is a smooth paste and leave to cool.
The spread is delicious on crackers or wheat free toast, topped with sliced bananas. For an added kick, you can add 1 ½ tbsp of cognac or your favourite liquor to the pan as it simmers. For me, sweet liquor such as amaretto or Tia Maria works well.
If savoury treats are more your thing, I like to grate a few squares of dark chocolate with chilli into my vegetarian chilli ‘sans’ carne or even nibble a little with some homemade sweet potato and carrot crisps which contain a lot less fat and calories when baked in the oven rather than being fried in oil.
Whatever your most tempting food treat is, take a note from the French and remember that a little of what you fancy IS good for you and when enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet combined with exercise, there is no harm in it.
Here, the proof really is in the pudding.