Wait a minute, Lard? As in the fat, both rendered and unrendered, from pigs? Isn’t it sounds like a heart attack or 10 pounds of instant weight gain?
Not so fast. For centuries it was a staple ingredient in the cooking of people from a vast array of cultures, and recently, lard has come back into fashion and become a fat of choice for many nutritionists. Much of the ancient world enjoyed this nutrient wealthy food since farmers can raise pigs in nearly any climate and circumstance.
The highest grade of this fat is called leaf lard. Leaf lard is the most highly prized, and pricey, lard that comes from the visceral fat surrounding the kidneys and loin of the pig. Leaf lard is almost tasteless and has a different fatty acid profile than the rest of the fat on the hog. The second grade is called fatback that comes from the subcutaneous fatty layer between the skin and muscle of the pig. The final grade is created from the soft fat around organs like the small intestine, called caul fat which ordinarily used as a sausage casing.
After years of being told that fats are bad, it might hard to come to terms with the fact that lard is a healthy, nourishing source of energy for our bodies.
It’s not just a tolerable fat; it’s a desirable fat. Scientist found this surprising fact and published it in 2015. More than 1,000 raw foods were analyzed and the researcher found that lard is among the top ten foods which offer the best balance of an individual’s daily nutritional requirements. it’s listed as containing “a good source of B vitamins and minerals” as well as being “more unsaturated and healthier than lamb or beef fat”.
Here are the top 10 most nutritious foods and their nutritional scores, according to the study:
- Almonds, 97
- Cherimoya, 96
- Ocean perch, 89
- Flatfish, 88
- Chia seeds, 85
- Pumpkin seeds, 84
- Swiss chard, 78
- Pork fat, 73
- Beet greens, 70
- Snapper, 69
Wait, Why Did Lard Get Such a Bad Name?
It started in the early 1900s, the company Proctor & Gamble were growing and harvesting cotton. They found after intense processing — including heating and pressing — they were able to extract oil from the cottonseed which cost Proctor & Gamble next to NOTHING to produce it. This oil went through a hydrogenation process to produce more stable oil that lasts for a long time. When this oil cooled, it looked exactly like lard.
They named it Crisco and marketed it as a cheaper and “healthier” fat. Lard was touted as unhealthy or smelly. When in fact, Cottonseed has a high amount of pesticides and Omega-6 Fatty acids that can cause an inflammatory response in our bodies if consumed too much.
Soon after the infiltration of cottonseed oil into our food supply, came the rise of conditions associated with inflammation and disease. Heart disease, diabetes, infertility, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and autism, just to name a few.
Is Lard Healthy?
In the question yes or no, the simple answer is yes and I’ll give you reasons why, but first, let’s clarify something: lard from modern, factory-farmed pigs is not healthy.
Pigs are foragers, and tend to eat anything close by of their snout, however pork product can be very nutritious if the pigs are raised in the right living conditions: clean, with access to sunshine, fresh air, grass and other vegetation, and fed healthy scraps like spoiled milk, which is a nice source of lysine, an amino acid pigs ought to thrive.
So finally, we arrive at this. Generally, the reason why lard is healthy is three things: Vitamin D, monosaturated fat, and omega 3.
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1. Lard is High in Vitamin D
Here’s the health benefits of pork lard. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and the removal of harmful toxic metals such as cadmium, aluminum, strontium. But one of the most important tasks of Vitamin D as well as cholesterol is hormone production and regulation. Fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and infertility, to name a few are problems with adrenals, thyroid and sex hormones that all related to a deficiency in fat-soluble Vitamin D. This is one of the great health problems of modern societies.
Vitamin D is also known for its critical role in bone health. There is increasing evidence also suggests vitamin D plays a role in the prevention of many chronic diseases including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Lard is high in vitamin D, in fact, it’s the second richest dietary source of vitamin D next to cod liver oil. Lard from pastured pigs contains 500 – 1000 IU vitamin D per tablespoon based on the pig’s diet and exposure to sunlight. This is why finding lard from pastured pigs is essential. Most of us are deficient in vitamin D, which means our immune systems aren’t as strong as they should be. As a powerful immunity booster, the intake of Vitamin D can prevent those frequent colds and flu in your home each year.
If you think you can get Vitamin D from plants or the sun, you are definitely not wrong. You can get some, but nothing comes close to lard. The only plant source of Vitamin D is mushroom with about 21 IU per mushroom, which is only about 2,1% vitamin D in lard and humans are not really efficient at assimilating Vitamin D from the sun. You will only receive 100-200 IU of vitamin D after 20-30 minutes basking in the sun, the recommended amount of sun exposure each day.
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2. Lard has High Monosaturated Fats
Actually, pastured lard is a good fat. Lard is classified as a monounsaturated fat and come second after olive oil in the monosaturated department with about 48% monounsaturated fat. Butter ranks third with 30% and coconut oil is last at 6%. Lard also contains 40% saturated fat and 12% polyunsaturated fats. As you can see from the ratios, lard also contains saturated fat and cholesterol.
Yes, cholesterol. Because contrary to popular belief, heart disease is NOT caused by saturated fat and cholesterol. Not only is it not the cause of heart disease we’ve all been led to believe it is, it’s actually good for your heart. Saturated fat helps to protect and build up cell walls and support hormones. In addition to that, oleic acid, the main fat in lard is associated with decreased risk of depression.
3. Lard has Healthier Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio
Additionally, while the majority of western diets are too high in inflammatory omega 6 fats found in processed vegetable oils, pastured lard has a healthier omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, with very little unstable, polyunsaturated omega 6 fats.
The omega 3 fatty acids in lard are easily assimilated by the human body compared to plant-based omega fats that must be converted by our bodies to usable forms. Sufficient dietary fat is essential for brain health as our brains are made primarily of fat, the assimilation of vitamins and minerals like vitamins D which soluble in fat, and immune system health. That’s all about the health benefits of pork lard.