Here’s how this traditional super-food became a villain – and why you may want to reconsider including it in your diet…
Decades ago, your grandmother probably cooked with a popular cooking ingredient that was stocked in just about every pantry. This common ingredient was often included in pies, cookies, cakes, and more, and it contained some important nutrients such as DHA, vitamin A, vitamin D, and tocotrienols. It was cheap, readily available, and made so many foods much more delicious.
However, these days you would be hard pressed to find that food in almost any American kitchen. In fact, many people treat this food as if it were pure evil, despite the fact that it has been around for hundreds of years, and is much healthier for you than the majority of foods on supermarket shelves today.
In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about…
Vilified in recent decades as an “unhealthy fat,” in fact, many researchers and natural health experts believe that old-fashioned lard is one of the healthiest natural fats you can get.
The bad reputation that lard has today stems from faulty research conducted shortly after World War II. (You can read more about this here.) As the mainstream media began promoting the story that saturated fat caused heart disease, many large food processing companies seized the opportunity to further this myth in order to sell more of their processed fat products such as Crisco and margarine.
In fact, saturated fat does NOT cause heart disease, as numerous studies conducted over the past 60 years have proven time and time again.
For example, the famous Nurses’ Health Study followed more than 80,000 nurses for 20 years. It found that saturated fats had NO impact on heart disease risk.1 A review of 21 studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated data from more than 350,000 people over 23 years. It found no evidence that saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease or stroke.2
In another study, London researchers analyzed fat found in clogged arteries. It turns out only 26% of it was saturated. The other 74% was unsaturated. That’s the same type of fat you find in “heart healthy” polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) found in vegetable oils.3
In other words, PUFAs — not lard — are more likely to give you heart disease. In the Sydney Diet Heart Study, Australian researchers followed 458 heart patients for seven years. They instructed half the patients to reduce saturated fat in their diet to less than 10% of calories, and increase PUFAs to 15% of calories.
The results showed that people eating more PUFAs and less saturated fat had HIGHER death rates overall. They also had higher death rates from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. In fact, the death rate for the so-called “healthy” (vegetable oil-based) fats was about 70% higher.
The researchers estimated that replacing just 5% of your saturated fat calories with “heart healthy” vegetable oil increases cardiovascular risk by 35%. And it increases risk of death from all causes by 29%.4
You see, vegetable oils with PUFAs are not stable. They break down and become oxidized. In your body they cause free radical damage and inflammation that leads to all chronic diseases.
On the flip side, saturated fats like lard are very stable. The bonds between their molecules are very strong. They don’t break down or oxidize easily – even at high heat.
Lard has very low levels of PUFAs. Lard is made up of 40% saturated fat and 50% monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs are the same heart healthy fats you find in olive oil and avocados. They help balance your blood sugar, reduce belly fat and inflammation, and protect your cholesterol from becoming oxidized.
Besides being rich in healthier fats, lard is also the second highest food source of vitamin D after cod liver oil. Just one tablespoon of lard gives you 1,000 IUs of vitamin D.
However, all of these good things come with a very important caveat, and you will want to be very careful if you choose to start consuming this superfood…
The problem is that most lard you will find in the supermarket comes from animals raised and processed on factory farms. These animals are often mistreated, and they spend their lives confined to small pens covered in feces and being force-fed with antibiotics and other nasty chemicals – all of which can end up in their fat, and therefore in your lard.
Instead, if you are going to eat lard, make sure you look for lard from pastured hogs. Not only will you avoid the toxins you would find in lard from confined animals, but this type of lard also contains the highest levels of vitamin D and other healthy vitamins since the pigs have access to sunshine and fresh, green plant foods. Purchase lard only from your local farmer or family butcher so you know for sure it comes from pastured animals.
Another way to make sure you are getting the good stuff is to make your own! Rendering your own lard is relatively easy to do, and you can use the results in place of butter or oil when cooking. Lard is especially good for use in high-heat cooking, which can cause damage to the fats in many other types of oils, sometimes even turning them carcinogenic. It has a mild flavor that works well with most dishes.
How to Make Your Own Old-Fashioned Lard
- Ask your butcher for back fat from a pastured hog. Or get some pastured pork belly, or other fatty cuts like the shoulder or butt. Store in the freezer until ready to use.
- Cut the back fat or meat into one-inch cubes and place in a roasting pan. The smaller the pieces the faster it will render. Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan for every pound of fat.
- Place the uncovered roasting pan in a 250-degree (F) oven. Stir every 45 minutes as the fat melts.
- When the fat cubes begin to brown, remove the pan from the oven. Strain the fat from the cubes using a colander lined with cheesecloth. Return the remaining cubes to the roasting pan and put back into the oven.
- Repeat, extracting and draining off the fat until the only thing remaining in the pan are the browned “cracklings.”
- Store the lard in the refrigerator for up to a year or in the freezer for longer.
Responsibly sourced lard can be a healthy addition to your diet, especially if you are substituting it for the highly processed vegetable oils that are so common in the modern diet, and which have been found to be so much worse for your health than most people think. Just make sure you are getting your lard from a clean source, and of course, remember lard is high in calories, so consume in moderation to maintain a healthy weight.
1. Simin Liu, Walter C Willett, Meir J Stampfer et al. “A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 71, Issue 6, 1 June 2000, Pages 1455–1461.
2. Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu, Ronald M Krauss. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 91, Issue 3, 1 March 2010, Pages 535–546.
3. Felton CV et al. “Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and composition of human aortic plaques.” Lancet. 1994;344(8931):1195-6.
4. Ramsden CE et al, “Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis.” BMJ. 2013;346:e8707. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e8707.