Praise the Lard

May 15, 2017

Remember the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper"? In my favorite scene, set over 200 years from now, a physician can't believe how people dieted in earlier times. "You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or hot fudge?" he asks. His colleague answers, "Those were thought to be unhealthy ... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true."

Allen was just trying to be funny, but he may have been more prescient than he realized. Today we know that chocolate can be good for you, we've learned that butter (churned cream) is safer than margarine, and we understand that fat, at least the right kind of fat, is not necessarily bad.

In fact, it turns out that even lard, that most maligned of fats, suffers from an undeserved reputation. It actually contains a significant amount (about 60 percent) monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the so-called good fats that you find in olive oil. Moreover, it contains a third less saturated fat than butter and less than half as much cholesterol.

Finally, pure lard contains no trans fats, the kind that raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Yet margarines and shortenings typically are full of them.

So how did lard get such a bad rap? There was a time when it was what most people cooked with. After all, humans have been making lard (rendered pork fat) ever since they started raising pigs, a good 10,000 years ago. By the mid-20th century Americans were annually consuming nearly 15 pounds of the stuff per person, using it even as a spread.

But after people started to worry that animal fat wsa inextricably linked to heart disease, lard's reputation became, well, splattered. Now we know better. A little lard is not inherently unhealthy. That's good news if you want the flakiest pie crust or the most delectable fried potatoes. So, I say let us now praise the lard.