Saturday, March 22, 2008

The L-word

That's right, ladies and gentlemen: lard. The word alone makes lipophobes cringe like a vampire from garlic. It also makes epicures salivate. But why is lard so unhealthy? Let's take a look.

The fatty acid profile of lard might give us a clue. A major portion of lard is monounsaturated, 40% by weight. This is the same type of fat that predominates in olive oil (73%), and which is widely recommended by mainstream nutrition experts. Another prevalent class of fat in lard is saturated, at 48%. More than one third of this saturated fat is stearic acid, which even the most hardened lipophobe will agree has a "favorable" effect on blood lipids. Then there's the 8% polyunsaturated fat, which has been the darling of mainstream heart disease research for decades due to its ability to lower blood cholesterol (for the record, I believe the polyunsaturate content is lard's least healthy feature). The omega-3:6 ratio depends on how the pig was raised, but is typically skewed more toward omega-6.

So what does that leave us with? 66% fats that we're told are heart-healthy, and 30% non-stearic saturated fats that are supposed to be unhealthy. But if you still believe saturated fats cause heart disease, check out this post, this one and this one.

Lard also contains a small amount of vitamin D. The sun is the best source of vitamin D, since your skin synthesizes it when it's exposed to UVB. But due to the low angle of the sun in winter, and the fact that many people don't spend enough time outdoors even in the summer, extra vitamin D in the diet is helpful.

I think you can see that lard's bad reputation is undeserved. It may be a legacy of the time when hydrogenated vegetable oils were competing with animal fats for the food market.

There is such a thing as unhealthy lard, however. It's the stuff you might find at the grocery store. Store-bought lard is often hydrogenated to make it more shelf-stable. It also comes from confinement-raised pork operations, which aside from being profoundly inhumane, do not allow access to the outdoors. Thus, the fat won't contain vitamin D.

In the next post, I'll talk about how to buy pasture-raised lard and render it yourself.

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