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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
'Cultured' French live longer
A traditional fry-up
Some British foods knock years off people's lives
The traditional image may be of a nation of wine-loving, Gitane-smokers, with a laissez-faire attitude to cholesterol - but the French appear to be much healthier than their cross-Channel cousins.

According to a report published by the World Health Organisation, the French can expect to live longer than the British, coming third in the world rankings compared to the UK at 14th.

And, despite calorie-counting being as alien to French culture as cricket and warm beer, diet appears to be a key part of the reason why.

Child eating an ice cream
Eating habits in the UK have to change
From the young to the old, the French have a more cultured attitude to food, says French-based chef Alex Mackay and are more likely to crave a good home-cooked meal than a chocolate bar.

"The French really care about their food," said Mr Mackay, who runs a cookery school in St Tropez during the summer.

"They take time to shop, to cook and eat. It is a different mentality from Britain.

"Only yesterday I sat in a café and listened to a couple of men debating what type of cabbage went best with a certain meal for over an hour. You don't get that sort of talk in a British pub."

Food scientist Gail Goldberg agrees that cultural difference to food play a part in the difference in life expectancy between the French and British.

"The French tend to prepare food from scratch, they have structured meal times and eating is an important part of the day. It is not rushed," she said.

French don't rush food

Mr Mackay says people in the UK are bombarded with choice but often the ingredients are tasteless and they don't know what to do with them.

The French have a more limited range but everything is fresh and ripe.

"The French shop everyday and at local markets. The food often looks shrivelled but it is the real thing and tastes wonderful.

"In the UK you get rows of perfect looking vegetables but they taste of very little. It makes the palate become jaded.

A supermarket shopper
More choice but less taste
"In France I have a great greengrocer, fishmonger and butchers. I get fish delivered just hours after it has been caught.

"The saddest thing is the decline of local shops in Britain. Supermarkets are convenient, but I don't think the food is as good."

But times are changing and the growing interest in food in this country and the increase of fast food chains in France means the balance could tip the other way, he says.

"The French are moving away from the food culture and Britain is getting into it.

"More and more kids are starting to eat burgers over here, whereas people are starting to understand food in the UK.

"Give it a few years and the tables might have turned."

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