Conventional dietary wisdom and the propaganda of the USDA teach that we are to eat a low-fat diet, and that when we do eat fat, it should be unsaturated. According to the diet dictocrats, saturated fat is very, very dangerous. We ought to curtail it severely, for it just might kill us faster than drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, right?
I obviously have not been swayed by the propaganda campaign, and continue to consume lots of healthy animal fats.
Canola oil, one of the supposed wonders of modern food technology, is one of the ‘healthy’ fats the USDA loves to tout. It is high in monounsaturated fats and supposedly a good source of those heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. What they neglect to tell the public is that most of the omega-3s in canola oil are transformed into TRANS fats during the deodorization process; trans fats are the fats that the USDA and us paleo eaters can both agree are really, really bad for you. Maybe even like drugs, alcohol, and tobacco bad for you.
For more info on the great con-ola, the Weston A. Price Foundation has a wonderful article. The jist of it – traditional foods win out over laboratory-created food-like products yet again.
So what I am trying to say is that not all of those unsaturated fats are actually ‘good’ fats, and likewise saturated fat is not bad. We need a much more nuanced analysis.
The terms “saturated fat” and “animal fat” are often treated as if they’re synonymous. Animal fat is a mixture of different fatty acids – both saturated and unsaturated – and not all saturated fats are created equal.
One of my favorite animal fats is lard. I use it to fry up my grain-free chicken nuggets, my egg foo yung, my zucchini cakes, and my kohlrabi fritters. It is also great for fried eggs in the morning, or fried garden veggies – cabbage and Brussels sprouts immediately come to mind. Lard is delicious, it is versatile, it is stable even at very high cooking temperatures, and it is cheap. I can get gallon buckets from my local butcher for very little. (I love coconut oil too, but buying gallon tubs of it is a little cost-prohibitive for us right now.)
So today I wanted to take a closer look at the composition of one of my favorite fats. The mixtures can vary slightly depending on the breed of animal and how it was raised (Animals fed a natural diet, not raised on a feed lot, will obviously be healthier.), but in general the composition of lard is as follows:
45% monounsaturated fats – 91% of this is oleic acid, the principle fatty acid that is found in olive oil – you know, the ‘healthy’ fat that the purveyors of conventional wisdom think is just the cat’s pajamas
11% polyunsaturated fats – these LOWER LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol but have no meaningful effect of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol
39% saturated fatty acids – but more than one third of that is stearic fatty acid, which increases HDL ‘good’ cholesterol while having no effect on LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. Stearic acid is actually metabolized in the body to oleic acid – you know, that same heart-healthy fat from olive oil that that I just mentioned.
And the source for this information, in case you were wondering: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22 (2009).
So basically, the vast majority of the fat in lard will IMPROVE the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol. A lot of it actually LOWERS ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. And that is what we want, right? Lower LDL and a better HDL/LDL ratio.
The ratio is what really matters, NOT the total cholesterol number, as I have discussed before, since HDL has a PROTECTIVE effect against heart disease. And did I mention that a low total cholesterol number is not all it is cracked up to be? All-cause mortality is actually HIGHER for people who have low (below 194) cholesterol – in men across the entire age range, and in women from the age of 50 onward. Just some food for thought . . .
My HDL ‘good’ cholesterol is actually higher than my LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. The goal, according to the medical community, is to keep the ratio of HDL to Total Cholesterol above 0.3, with the ideal HDL/TC ratio being above 0.4. Last time I got my labs done, my ratio was .6, something almost unheard of in today’s medical community. Probably because today’s medical community is advocating the same pyramidal (excuse me, plate-shaped) ridiculousness as the USDA.
And I am not increasing my all-cause mortality risk by keeping my cholesterol numbers unnaturally low. Cholesterol is necessary to the body, after all – for hormone production, for lining cell walls, for brain growth and functioning. It is especially necessary, then, for babies with growing brains. I might have to write another rant on that topic.
In the meantime, though, check out some of these studies if you are still skeptical.
Strandberg TE, et al. Low cholesterol, mortality, and quality of life in old age during a 39-year follow-up. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Sept 1, 2004; 44 (5): 1002-1008.
Jacobs D, et al. Report of the Conference on Low Blood Cholesterol: Mortality Associations. Circulation, 1992; 86: 1046-1060.
Anderson KM, et al. Cholesterol and mortality. 30 years of follow-up from the Framingham study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1987; 257: 2176-2180.
Schatz IJ, et al. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study. Lancet, Aug 4, 2001; 358 (9279): 351-355.