French second best in world for healthy diet

Think France is the best place in the world to eat? Think again, says a new Oxfam report that looks at quality, availability and price of food. The country that topped the rankings might surprise you.

French second best in world for healthy diet
A typical French village market. France has been judged the second best country in the world for its quality of

The French pride themselves on their healthy and balanced diet but it is not quite good enough to see them top the rankings as the best place in the world to eat.

Absurd, some might say but according to Oxfam’s new global food index titled "Good Enough to Eat",released on Wednesday, the Netherlands actually has the best quality of food, beating France into joint second place with Switzerland.

The survey was not however based on the quality of oysters, foie gras and wine, but on the availability of a healthy, plentiful and affordable diet.

European countries dominated the top of the rankings but Australia made it into the top 10, to tie with Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg at number 8. The United Kingdom was tied at 13th on the index of 125 countries, scoring badly due to the volatility of food prices.

“Poverty and inequality are the real drivers of hunger. Hunger happens where governance is poor, distribution weak, when markets fail,” Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement. “Having sufficient healthy and affordable food is not something that much of the world enjoys.”

The index was based on how affordable, available and of what quality food and dietary health is in each of the nations. It also weighed up the percentage of malnourished children, the diversity of food as well as food-related health problems like diabetes and obesity.

Oxfam looked at four main criteria: Do people have enough to eat? Can they afford to eat? Is the food of good quality? and What are the results of unhealthy diets?

The United States and Canada fell just outside the top 20, at numbers 21 and 25 respectively. While the U.S. has the most stable food supply in the world, unhealthy eating habits pushed it down the index.

THe bottom 30 places in the rankingswere occupied by African countries.

Oxfam researchers gave the top spot to the Netherlands because food is relatively low cost there and diabetes is less common. Chad wound up at the bottom of the list because of its high food prices and an elevated number of malnourished children.

Reuters reported the index figures shows, despite there being enough food, 840 million people go hungry each day. Oxfam said the world food production and distribution system is due for a major overhaul.

Oxfam’s data came from October and December 2013 using the latest information from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Foundation, the International Labour Organization and other international organizations, Reuters reported.

Whether the French maintain their love of a healthy and balanced diet is questionable. The Local reported last year how fast food sales in France had outstripped the sales of traditional restaurant meals.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Revealed: How your food and drink habits change when you move to France

From shopping to cooking, eating out to wine, here are the ways readers of The Local have noticed their eating and drinking habits have changed since moving to France.

Revealed: How your food and drink habits change when you move to France

France prides itself on its gastronomy and food and drink play an important part in everyday life and culture. It can take a bit of getting used to for foreigners, but when we asked readers of The Local, most said that the change has been in a positive direction.

In our survey asking readers how their relationship with food and drink has changed since moving to France, 90 percent said that they noticed that the quality of the food they consume had improved.

Fresh food and markets

Janet Parkinson told us that she feels “healthier overall, despite the quantities of butter and cheese I consume!”

“I may be one of the few people who LOSE weight when they visit Paris. We shop at the outdoors food markets all the time and eat a ton of fresh produce. The quality is so much higher than in the US and the prices are so much lower, it’s astounding”.

For readers from the United States, the availability of fresh markets was one of the primary ways they noticed the quality of their food increase.

Jim Lockard in the Rhône département said he feels “more healthy here”.

“It is much easier to obtain affordable healthy ingredients here, especially with the outdoor marchés and the prevalence of smaller food shops”. 

Another American, Gregory Long, in the Paris area, said “we do not waste food here. We go to the bio marché [organic market] on Sunday and buy food for the week. We are definitely making more “big salads” at home. Eating much more fresh pastries”. 

Karen Hairston said the main thing that surprised her about eating and drinking in France was the “vast availability of fresh markets in Paris”.

As of 2021, there were over 10,700 food markets (both covered and uncovered) in France. In Paris, you are never too far away from a market – there are several per day all across the city, and they are all listed on the town hall’s website with an interactive map.

READ MORE: All you need to know about shopping at French food markets

Eating out vs. cooking from scratch

About half of respondents said that they eat out more often in France, while the other half said they are more likely to cook from scratch.

As for respondents from the UK, several found that they have been doing more home-cooking while on this side of the Channel.

Elizabeth Lynes, who has been living in France for over four years, said: “our diet is more healthy as we don’t eat takeaways here. Food isn’t as processed, meat is a far better quality here, though fruit and vegetables don’t store so well here”. 

Mandy Moat, who is vegan said: “it is more difficult for me to eat out and there is less variety of vegan options in France than in the UK.

“I do a lot more cooking since moving here, but I eat better and healthier, and I’m able to grow my own food as I have a bigger garden here. I rarely eat out”.

Simultaneously, many other respondents – both from the UK and US – were surprised to find that restaurants can be more affordable than previously imagined.

Jane Fisher, who has been visiting France for several years, noted this: “Generally we can eat much better and for a much more reasonable price in France than we can in the Boston area.

“We’ve had lunch for two at a Michelin one star restaurant for €140. Going to an equivalent restaurant in Boston would cost twice that. Many Americans think France is expensive, but when restaurant prices include tax and tip, and wine is reasonably priced, in general meals will cost less than comparable meals in the US”.

As for Susan Parker Taylor, said she “[goes] out more for food as it is great value for money. We also socialise more with friends”.

The joy of a meal

Almost half of the readers who responded to the survey said that living in France has made them more adventurous when it comes to trying different and new types of food, and many noticed themselves slowing down to really enjoy each bite.

Jim Lockard said that in France “Meals are to be savoured, and you talk about life, not about what you are eating and drinking”.

Another reader, Jen Williams in Paris, noted that “we sit at meals much longer than we would in the US. I’m much less picky now”.

This sentiment of really savouring a meal was a common one. 

Canadian Jo-Ann Gagnon, who has been living in France under a year, also noticed that she eats slower in France – she said: “I take more time to taste my food. I pay more attention to my table manners. For instance, I put my fork and knife down between each bite. I drink Champagne instead of wine because it is affordable in France!”

For many readers, this is best reflected in the way restaurant service works in France.

READ MORE: Reader question: Do I really need to reserve before going to a restaurant in France?

“I love the slow rate at which a meal at a restaurant is served and eaten. Dinners out are about relaxation and not about wilding down food. The waiters don’t rush you out,” Sarah Van Sicklen told The Local.

Richard Stenton, who lives in the Gard, felt similarly, saying that there is no rush to finish. “When you go to a restaurant you have the table in most places for the whole evening or afternoon. You have to ask for the bill”.

Not all positives

Some readers did find some negative aspects about eating and drinking in France, however. Roger B in Pyrénées-Orientales lamented the fact that “there are no robust breakfasts available”.

Two readers also referenced the fact that fast food has become more prevalent in France in recent years, particularly those that focus on selling burgers and pizza.

READ MORE: Krispy Kreme, Popeyes, Five Guys: the American fast-food chains taking on France

And as mentioned above, adjusting to the French diet can be challenging for those with food restrictions.

Sarah Van Sicklen said that before she moved to France, she had been vegan for almost 10 years. “The quality and availability vegan food made continuing to be vegan extremely difficult. It’s still easy to avoid meat but good luck avoiding butter. It’s practically in the air here”, she said. 

Nonetheless, Van Sicklen did add that this was one aspect that surprised her: “the butter is insanely delicious!”