Trans fatty acids: Why lard may be better for you than vegetable oil


If you’re a dedicated vegetarian, prepare to be appalled.

If you’re convinced that saturated fat is bad for your health, prepare to be surprised.

And if the thought of cooking with lard sounds unappetising, prepare to be tantalised.

Hydrogenated vegetable oil linked to health risks

Imagine how daunting this task would be: Try to convince the many thousands of restaurant owners, managers and cooks to change the way they prepare food. And just to make it even more daunting, the change will probably raise the cost of food preparation.

You might have better luck coaxing a restaurant manager through the eye of a needle.

Nevertheless, US officials at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are trying to make dining out less hazardous by launching a drive to encourage every restaurant in the city to voluntarily discontinue the use of hydrogenated vegetable oil. And this plan has the blessing of the New York State Restaurant Association.

As most HSI member are probably aware by now, trans fats (trans fatty acids) are created by the hydrogenation of vegetable oil; a process that gives the oil a longer shelf life, making it a perfect choice for restaurants and manufacturers of processed foods. But many studies over the past decade have shown trans fatty acid intake to be associated with 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.’

Not much room to move in that recommendation.

Lard – an alternative to hydrogenated oils

The US Food and Drug Administration has stated that from January 2006, food manufacturers will be required to list trans fat content on all nutrition facts panels.

Here in the UK, food labels dont have to list trans fatty acids in the nutritional information provided unless the product claims it is ‘low in trans fats’. They don’t even need to be listed in the ingredients. Can you believe it?

During the process of oil hydrogenation, trans fatty acids can be formed. This means that some foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil also contain trans fatty acids. Thankfully, hydrogenated vegetable oil must be declared in the ingredients list on labels.

So far restaurants have dodged this regulatory bullet. But now that New York’s restaurant owners are being encouraged to face health facts and stop using hydrogenated oils, what oil should they use instead?

This is where Corby Kummer jumped in with a suggestion: lard.

Mr. Kummer, a senior editor at US magazine The Atlantic Monthly, penned a recent New York Times op-ed piece in which he sang the praises of lard (rendered and clarified pig fat). And if that sounds less than appetising, Mr. Kummer points out that every baker knows that there is no oil that produces a flakier or tastier pie crust. Lard also produces delicious fried chicken and fish.

Obviously, a healthy diet would not include large amounts of pies and fried foods, but lard can be used in any number of ways. And for those who think that ‘pure lard’ means ‘pure danger,’ Mr. Kummer offers this breakdown of lard’s fat profile:

* Lard is 40 percent saturated fat (compared to coconut oil’s 85 percent and palm kernel oil’s 80 percent)
* Lard contains ‘a very respectable’ 45 percent monounsaturated fat (for more on the benefits of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) see the e-alert ‘Change your diet to avoid Parkinsons disease’ 21/7/05)

Now, in spite of the MUFA content of lard, the medical mainstream might swoon at the thought of 40 percent saturated fat. After all, saturated fats will kill you, right? They’ll clog your arteries and stop your heart, correct?

Answers: No and No.

Eat your animal fats

In a review of saturated fat studies that appeared last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors (from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California) noted that many mainstream researchers have narrowly focused on the hypothesis that saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol and the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD).

The UC authors write: ‘The evidence is not strong, and, overall, dietary intervention by lowering saturated fat intake does not lower the incidence of nonfatal CAD; nor does such dietary intervention lower coronary disease or total mortality.’

Elsewhere in their review they state: ‘The conclusion of an analysis of the history and politics behind the diet-heart hypothesis was that after 50 years of research, there was no evidence that a diet low in saturated fat prolongs life.’

And similar observations have been voiced many times by US physician Dr William Campbell Douglass II. Late last year Dr. Douglass wrote: ‘Countless studies show that the MORE animal fats people eat, the better their heart health. Need some proof from the real world? The African Masai, North American Eskimos, Japanese, Greeks, Okinawans, and our good friends the French all consume diets that are extremely high (by mainstream American standards) in saturated animal fats. Yet these people enjoy astonishingly low rates of heart disease, hypertension, and coronary events.’

So don’t fear the lard. Or – as Dr. Douglass puts it in his typically direct style: ‘Eat your animal fats!’

Bear in mind all the material in this email alert is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.

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  • This whole trans-fat, veg oil thing is very confusing. I think eating fresh food is best – forget the frying and the whatever… Good health to all.

  • Just be careful about the type of lard you buy. The stuff in supermarkets is probably hydrogenated. Best is natural organic lard.

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