Fats have got themselves a bad name in recent times, yet they are an essential food.

Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and untendered forms. It is obtained from any part of the pig where there is a high proportion of adipose tissue. It can be rendered by steaming it or boiling it in water and then separating the insoluble fat from the water, or by the use of dry heat. It is a semi-soft white fat with a high saturated fatty acid content and no trans-fats, and refined lard is usually sold as paper-wrapped blocks. Being a product obtained from a pig, it is not an acceptable food ingredient in some cultures.

Lard used in many kinds of cooking

Lard is commonly used in many cuisines around the world as a cooking fat or shortening, or as a spread similar to butter. It is an ingredient in various savoury dishes such as sausages, pates and fillings, and it is particularly favoured for the preparation of pastry because of the "flakiness" it brings to the product. Its use in western contemporary cuisine has diminished with the increased popularity of vegetable oils, but many contemporary cooks and bakers still favour it over other fats for certain select uses. The culinary qualities of lard vary somewhat depending on the part of the pig from which the fat was taken and how the lard was processed.

 To me this is difficult to believe

Isn't lard full of the saturated fat that doctors warn can clog up your arteries? Well, not really. Saturated fat makes up only about 40% of the fat in lard and actually isn't as bad for your health as doctors used to think. In fact, many experts now argue that eating saturated fat is good for overall health. Recent studies have found that eating more saturated fat doesn't increase the risk of heart disease at all, while some studies show it can raise good HDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-carb or low-sugar diet.

Besides, lard is lower in saturated fat than other animal fats like butter and tallow, and higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat the type that gives olive oil its health halo. Lard is made up of 50% monounsaturated fat compare that to only 32% in butter and 6% in coconut oil. Plus, in its natural form, lard has none of the trans-fats that we know are bad for you. 

Because lard contains more saturated fat than veggie oils, it doesn't go rancid as quickly and has a higher smoke point, making it better for frying and high-heat cooking. The chemical makeup of saturated fats is very stable. Unsaturated fats like those found in vegetable oils, on the other hand, tend to go bad and change structure the longer they cook. This means oils like canola, corn, or olive cooked at a high heat or used repeatedly (like in restaurant fry cookers) can start to break down and release free radicals, which then lead to inflammation. 

The information I found says, if that's not enough to convince you, lard also just makes things taste better there's a reason your grandma used it in everything from pies to scrambled eggs. "Lard is the fat that has the largest crystals, so it's going to make things like tamales and pastries the fluffiest and flakiest," says Zarela Martinez, a chef who owned one of New York City's arguably most authentic Mexican restaurants for 23 years. "There's no comparison in cooking beans with lard and cooking them with oil."  

When it comes to choosing an oil or fat for cooking, we have never been so spoiled for choice. Take a trip to your local supermarket and the aisles are packed with everything you could desire, from the traditional - good old lard and butter - to the fashionably new - rapeseed, sesame and the latest fad, coconut oil. The bewildering range of olive oils is enough to make the brain ache.

But which of them really is best to cook with? The benefits and harm each delivers has been debated for years, and most consumers are thoroughly confused, including me. No wonder, when we are bombarded with conflicting information and advice that differs depending on the oil.

We are told, for example, that olive oil has brilliant health benefits - but only when you use it cold.

'I know olive oil is really good for health, but the rest of them are not,' said one man, while another said: 'Sunflower oil - I don't know, man, it's got the word "sun" in, and the "flower". That's good!'

Most people had come to the seemingly obvious, conclusion that frying with vegetable oils has to be healthier than cooking with animal fat. But is it?

For the problem is that when fats and oils are heated they change, and as they do so they produce chemicals that may cause heart disease and cancer.

Some say Lard is healthy!

In recent generations, lard has seemed to completely disappear from home kitchens. I must say even I am very reluctant to use lard in cooking. Until the early 1900’s, lard was a staple cooking fat across the globe. It was the secret to perfectly flaky pie pastry, crispy fried chicken, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits and luscious gravy.

Now, when people hear the term lard, they immediately conjure up a vision of clogged arteries. It’s time to set the record straight – lard is a healthy cooking fat and deserves to make a comeback in kitchens everywhere. I still think according to my old fashioned way that is lard is not quite healthy. What I mention is what I found in some literature. I still think there must be good reasons why lard is not quite healthy.

Lard is heat stable

When it comes to determining the stability of a fat, it’s all about chemistry. Saturated fats have single bonds between all the carbon molecules of the fatty acid chain and are therefore the most heat-stable. That’s because single bonds, when it comes to the fatty acid carbon chain, are relatively difficult to break. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond replacing a single bond in the carbon chain. Double bonds in fatty acids are unstable and can break with heat. Polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable, because they have numerous double bonds in the carbon chain. When the double bonds in mono or polyunsaturated fats break, the fatty acid undergoes a process called oxidation.

Why are oxidized fats bad? In a nutshell, oxidized fats = free radicals. Free radicals = cell damage. While we inevitably have some free radicals in our body, we should minimize these damaging molecules as much as possible to protect health and reduce inflammation.

According to Mary Enig, author of Know Your Fats, lard is typically 40% saturated fat, 50% monounsaturated fat and 10% polyunsaturated fat. (Pastured hogs consuming a diet supplemented with grain or coconut will have a lower percentage of polyunsaturated fat – a good thing!). The percentage of saturated fat in lard protects the more vulnerable mono/polyunsaturated fats from oxidizing with heat, making lard an excellent choice for cooking and baking.

 They say lard is heart-healthy, is it true?

“Lard is an animal fat, and it is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Doesn’t that mean it raises my risk for heart disease?” The pervasive myth that animal fats increase the risk of heart disease is just that – a myth.  Our great-great-grandparents consumed lard and butter and experienced extremely low rates of heart disease. Lard is part of a healthy diet and will not give you heart attack.

An analysis of more than 300,000 people published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that there is no evidence that saturated fat consumption raises the risk of heart disease.

A low fat diet has been shown to increase triglycerides, which is a risk factor for heart disease. The Women’s Health Initiative studied nearly 50,000 post-menopausal women – one group of women were told to follow a low fat diet, and the other group continued to eat “normally.” After 8 years, there was no difference in the rate of heart disease or cancer between the groups.

The “diseases of modern civilization” including heart disease and diabetes skyrocketed as animal fats were replaced with factory fats including vegetable oils and margarine.

The cholesterol content of lard is health-protective, not dangerous.

  Lard is high in vitamin D

Lard is the second highest food source of vitamin D, after cod liver oil. One tablespoon of lard contains 1,000 IU’s of vitamin D. Also important, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so it requires fatty acids – including saturated fatty acids – to be absorbed and utilized in the body. Lard provides the perfect package of vitamin D along with the required fatty acid cofactors.  Other food sources of vitamin D, including pastured egg yolks and liver, pale in comparison to the amount of vitamin D in lard.

 Lard is great for baking

You may not think that lard pairs well with sweet foods, but traditionally lard was used for deep frying donuts and making flaky pie crusts. If you haven’t made a pie crust with lard, you are in for a beautiful surprise! In baked goods, lard lends tenderness and moisture without a discernible flavour.

 Lard is a healthy source of cholesterol

As a healing agent in the body, levels of cholesterol rise during periods of stress or when inflammation is present. Studies show that cholesterol consumption does not carry a cause-and-effect relationship with blood cholesterol levels. This is because the body produces the cholesterol it needs. Providing cholesterol through good quality fats, however, reduces the burden on the body to produce cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol from whole foods like lard supports inflammation management and hormone production.

 Lard is traditional

What are some examples of fats that don’t fit these guidelines? Canola oil, corn oil, fake butter, cooking spray and reduced-fat dairy products. Lard, however, was enjoyed by your ancestors thousands of years ago. My great-great-grandmother, a hard-working Danish woman who lived to the ripe old age of 107, grew up on copious dollops of lard, homemade sauerkraut and gallons of fresh milk from the family cow. You won’t see it advertised on TV, either, because large corporations won’t make money promoting the products of your local farmer. I am an old school thinker, I still have my doubts about if lard is healthy. Your comments are welcomed This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Hector Perera


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