When it comes to choosing an oil or fat for cooking, consumers have never been faced with a wider choice. The aisles at supermarkets are packed with a range of products, from the traditional old lard and butter to the more recent vegetable oils, such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed, sesame and the latest fad, coconut oil.
So, one cannot help but wonder, which of these really is the best to cook with? Most consumers are genuinely puzzled as the benefits and harm each delivers have been the subject of many debates for years.
Until the early 1900s, lard was the basic cooking fat. But, things changed throughout the 20th century and it seems that recent generations have completely given up on using lard. Its disappearance from our kitchens parallels an increase in fat-induced illnesses. Today, when people hear the term lard, they immediately think of clogged arteries. However, the real truth couldn’t be farther than this.
For one thing, pure lard contains no trans fats. And in terms of its fatty acids, it’s even better than butter – lard is 60% monounsaturated fat, which is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, whereas butter is 45% monounsaturated fat. Plus, most of lard’s monounsaturated fat is oleic acid, a heart-healthy essential fatty acid found in olive oil and associated with decreasing LDLs, thus lowering “bad” cholesterol. Lard contains about double the amount of oleic acid found in butter, says Nick Bellissimo, assistant professor in Ryerson University’s Department of Nutrition.
On the other hand, vegetable oils undergo a process of hydrogenation, which gives the oil a longer shelf life. It is during this process that trans fats (trans fatty acids) are created and many studies over the past decade have linked trans fatty acid intake to a significantly higher risk of artery damage, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers. A 2002 report from a US National Academy of Sciences panel concluded with this recommendation: ‘The only safe intake of trans-fat is zero.’
The following article will provide you with sufficient evidence that lard is one the healthiest cooking fats.
Lard is heat stable
In order to understand the stability of a fat, you must first familiarize with its chemical structure. Saturated fats have single bonds between all the carbon molecules of the fatty acid chain, which are really difficult to break, and are therefore the most heat-stable. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond instead of a single bond in the carbon chain, which is unstable and can break with heat. Polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable, with multiple double bonds in the carbon chain. When these double bonds break, the fatty acid undergoes a process called oxidation, during which free radicals are released causing cell damage.
According to Mary Enig, author of Know Your Fats, lard is typically 40% saturated fat, 50% monounsaturated fat and 10% polyunsaturated fat. 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.
Lard is heart-healthy
Although lard is an animal fat, therefore high in saturated fat and cholesterol, it doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease. For one thing, our great- grandparents ate lard and butter regularly and experienced extremely low rates of heart disease.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an analysis of more than 300,000 people revealing that there is no evidence that saturated fat consumption increases the risk of heart disease. In fact, saturated fat intake raises HDL cholesterol, which is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. On the other hand, a low fat diet has proved to increase triglycerides, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Moreover, the incidence of modern diseases such as heart disease and diabetes increased rapidly as animal fats were replaced with factory fats including vegetable oils and margarine.
Lard is a healthy source of cholesterol
Lard is one of the foods with highest cholesterol content. Cholesterol is a healing agent in the body, and its levels rise during periods of stress or inflammation. Surprisingly, studies show that cholesterol consumption does not have an impact on blood cholesterol levels 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 high in vitamin D
Lard contains high amounts of Vitamin D, coming second after cod liver oil. It is estimated that 1 tablespoon of lard contains 1000 IU of Vitamin D. It’s important to know that vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which requires fatty acids, including saturated fatty acids, to be absorbed and utilized in the body and lard provides the ideal amount of vitamin D along with the required fatty acid cofactors.
Lard is economical
When it comes to healthy cooking fats, lard is definitely the most affordable, compared to coconut oil and grass-fed butter. Pastured lard can be obtained at a very reasonable price ($7.50 a quart). Alternatively, you can buy pastured hog fat from your butcher and then render lard yourself.
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