Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Healing Power of Lard

Here I go getting all scienc-ey again. You know you love it ;) My brother sent me this article from Barefoot Fitness last week and it is fabulous. Will this finally convince people to stop using chemical-laden foods like Pam, Egg Beaters and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter because they're "low fat and better for your cholesterol"? Probably not...but I'm going to keep trying! Come on guys - spend the 4 minutes it will take to read this. TRUST ME.

If you've paid much attention to nutrition in the past few years, you'll know that the saturated-fat-is-evil-eat-more-wonderbread-food-pyramid lipid hypothesis {click for explanation} has been pretty solidly disproven. Yes, there will always be a few diehards clinging to what the USDA taught them in grade school, but not too many people are still convinced that cholesterol and saturated fat will steal your lunch money and say mean things to your mom. 

One of my favorite examples of this is a food that has been maligned for decades: Lard. 

Lard is the fat, both rendered and unrendered, from pigs. For centuries it was {and still is} a stable ingredient in the cooking of people from a vast array of cultures, none of whom regularly had toddlers with type 2 diabetes.

Lard is used in much the same way as butter and has been experiencing a recent surge in popularity, particularly with high end restaurants and the Paleo community, which in some areas {Europe, mostly} is actually producing a supply shortage. 

But why has this product been so disparaged in the past? The very word conjures images of people and activities that are anything but healthy. 

A strong factor in the original reason for the replacement of lard with trans fat laden shortening products like Crisco is that the real thing was heavily rationed during World War II and a replacement was needed. Once it was realized that the replacement was cheaper to product and sell for higher profit margins, the incentives for convincing the public that it was good for them began springing up. 

This coincided shortly with {although didn't produce} the beginnings of the lipid hypothesis. Soon, Americans began replacing animal fats in their diet with hydrogenated vegetable oils.

The main reason is lard's saturated fat content. Even with the fallacy that hydrogenated oils are anything but poison well past, lard is easily dismissed as being too high in saturated fat and inferior to oils like the champion of heart health: olive oil.

The thing is that lard, as well as just about any other animal fat, isn't much different from olive oil when it comes to its nutritional profile. 

Here's a fantastic explanation of why this is, from the blog of Mary Dan Eades: {the italicized bit below is all science but please don't skip! comparison of lard composition to that of breast milk. read read!}

"Now let's compare lard to that darling of the disciples of the Mediterranean diet: olive oil. Olive oil contains 71% oleic acid, that heart-healthy, mono saturated fat that we're supposed to get more of. Lard contains 44% oleic acid, which is more than sesame oil (41%), and double or nearly so the amount in corn oil (28%), walnut oil (28%) and flaxseed oil (21%), more than double the amount of cottonseed oil (19%) and sunflower oil (19%), and nearly triple that of grape seed oil (15%) and safflower oil (13%). The oleic acid content of lard also exceeds that in beef fallow (43%), butterfat (29%), and human butterfat (i.e. the fat of breast milk at 35%).

Lard also contains a fair amount (14%) of the 18-carbon saturated fat, stearic acid, which has been shown in clinical testing to lower cholesterol. Important, of course, only if that's actually a valid cardiovascular health parameter when it's all said and done, which is looking more and more doubtful with each passing day. Certainly there are many who still think so. Consumers spend an annual $14.8 billion on statins in an effort to lower cholesterol - a sad commentary, when stearic acid is a whole lot cheaper and safer. {DAD!}

Like olive oil, lard contains 10% of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleum acid, again, roughly the same as human butterfat (breast milk) at 9%.

Lard contains 2% myristic acid, a 14-carbon saturated fat that has been shown to have important immune enhancing properties. Human butterfat contains about 8% myristic acid, as a booster for the newly minted and incompetent infant immune system. Other animal milk fats also contain a fair amount. By comparison, with the exception of cottonseed oil (1%), and the tropical oils, coconut oil (18%) and palm kernel oil (16%) vegetable oils have zero.

The big bugaboo with lard, then, must come from the last component of its composition: palmitic acid, a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid that is believed by some to be Beelzebub, Barlow and the Bermuda Triangle all rolled into one. Lard contains 26% of the stuff and olive oil only 13%. Aha! There it is. The smoking gun! That must be what makes lard so bad and olive oil so good!

There's one fly in that explanatory ointment, however: human butterfat contains 25% palmitic acid, just a silly 1% different from lard. Are we to believe that nature would have designed a food for human infants that contained too much?

So let's now compare lard's basic fatty acid composition to the real gold standard, the butterfat of human breast milk and see how it stacks up.

Breast Milk :: Saturated 48% - Monounsaturated 35% - Polyunsaturated 10%
Lard :: Saturated 42% - Monounsaturated 44% - Polyunsaturated 10%

Note: the numbers don't add up to 100% because of rounding and other small constituents not listed in the fats and oils of common edible foods table. That said, even if all the unreported 7% of the composition of breast milk were monounsaturated fat and all unreported 4% of last were saturated fat, the composition of lard would still be less saturated and contain more monounsaturates than human breast milk.

Now, tell me again why lard is bad for our health!"

A less science-ey, yet highly apt illustration of the same concept comes from the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes:

"The observation that monounsaturated fats both lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL also came with an ironic twist: the principal fat in red meat, eggs and bacon is not saturated fat, but the very same monounsaturated fat as in olive oil. The implications are almost impossible to believe after three decades of public-health recommendations suggesting that any red meat consumed should at least be lean, with any excess fat removed. 

Consider a porterhouse steak with a quarter-inch layer of fat. After broiling, this stake will reduce to almost equal parts of fat and protein. Fifty-one percent of the fat is monounsaturated, of which 90% is oleic acid. Saturated fat constitutes 45% of the total fat, but a third of that is stearic acid, which will increase HDL cholesterol while having no effect on LDL. The remaining 4% of the fat is polyunsaturated, which lowers LDL cholesterol but has no meaningful effect on HDL. In sum, perhaps as much as 70% of the fat content of a porterhouse steak will improve the relative levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, compared with what they would be if carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes and pasta were consumed. The remaining 30% will raise LDL cholesterol but will also raise HDL cholesterol and will have an insignificant effect, if any, on the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. All of this suggests that eating a porterhouse steak in lieu of bread or potatoes will actually reduce heart-disease risk, although virtually no nutritionalist will say so publicly. The same is true for lard and bacon."

Remember to keep that quote handy next time someone tries to guilt trip you about your impending coronary disaster because you're enjoying a grilled ribeye with veggies.

The best place to find quality lard is likely from your local butcher. With any animal fat product you need to be careful about quality because fat repository for a wide array of toxins like heavy metals, pesticides and antibiotic residues. Play it safe by requesting organic, naturally produced lard. 

Don't buy this kind.

If you opt to purchase it in the grocery store, make sure you know where it's coming from and avoid the containers of it that you'll find sitting on the shelf alongside things like Crisco. Industrially produced lard goes through heavy processing and is bleached and hydrogenated, destroying much of its nutritional value. {Apparently Mother Linda's is a top notch organic brand}


  1. wow! what an interesting article. I always just assume the word Lard is bad -- but obviously it gets a bad rep.

  2. You have a passion for Paleo! I'd be interested to hear the evolution of how your family (immediate and extended) got into it. I've been dipping my foot into the pond, but haven't been able to cannonball in, yet.

  3. I heart food science! Thank you very much for this incredible well done post! Cheers!

  4. I've been Paleo since June and feel/look better than I have in years. The more I learn the happier I am that I have embraced this lifestyle. {Sheridan, I have to thank you for giving me the push to research Paleo} I never plan on going back to eating the "typical" American diet. It is just awful for our bodies.

    I remember my mamma and grandma collecting bacon dripping and cooking with them when I was little. Now, Im being the bacon drippings collector. :) It really adds a ton of flavor to your cooking. Yet again, mamma knows best.

    Thanks for this article. Please keep them coming.

  5. Wow-- I actually just ran through our house with my computer to my husband downstairs because you literally are preaching exactly what he says everyday! Whenever we have people over for dinner they now ask, "are we going to be discussing saturated fats this evening?" Great post! Felt like I was reading something he had written... if you start blogging about politics I'm going to be concerned you're his long lost sister... ;)

  6. HA!!! That is hysterical. I swear people don't even want to come over to eat at our house because we try to get them to drink the Paleo Kool-aid from the moment they walk in ;) And you have NO IDEA how hard it is for me to not blog about politics!! It is a huge passion of mine. Oh I want to I want to I want to. But that is one thing I will not touch. At least not right now :D

  7. I agree, does this mean I can use lard instead of crisco to make pie crust?? I have never made a from scratch pie crust but just bought my first tub of crisco so I could, it felt very bad buying crisco!

  8. Such a great and informative post!

  9. My mother (88 years old going on 60) just gave you a "virtual hug!" When she visits we have driven to as many as SIX grocery stores asking for lard so she can bake...the clerks are "clueless.." xxx franki

  10. There is absolutely no doubt that if we all just ate real food from animals and the earth we would be so much better off.

    I make an effort to buy organic and food items that are not processed but, it is a challenge for me. I can't seem to convince myself go all the way. I want chocolate cake and french fries every now and then.

    Thanks for the enlightening post. ;-)

  11. Heather you can have those!! What's your email? I'll send you recipe links! Xx

  12. Fantastic post! I just finished up a program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The first time I started to question "lipid hypothesis" was when I heard a lecture given by Sally Fallon from the Weston A Price Foundation. It's amazing how far off track we've gotten. You gotta love a blog that can combine fashion and lard!

  13. Hey Sheridan
    I read this article recently and it reminded me of you. Take a look! I bet you'll find it interesting!

  14. I found your blog when researching a diaper bag, and now I read this post. Besides my passion for fashion, we share another interest. When I started to notice all of the H.S. girls with muffin-top (let alone my own muffin top), it made me question the food we were eating. I don't remember everyone being this chubby when I was a kid. With some research I found out the mass production of hormones in foods/corn derived fillers began in the 90's. I now make an effort to buy organic & avoid processed foods. Thanks for sharing this about lard.

  15. I recently bought supermarket lard that has NOT been hydrogenated and boy was it worth it: everything I eat has a better mouthfeel and taste ever since I'm using lard to cook my food.



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