When we think of a healthy diet, our minds turn to fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and – pork fat?!? Yes, it’s true.
Scientists probed more than 1,000 raw foods to reveal their nutritional value and, surprise of surprises, discovered that pork fat – also known as lard – made the Top Ten list!
The research disclosed that 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of pork fat contains 632 kilocalories (kcal) and is a good source of B vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, fat from a pig is more unsaturated and therefore healthier than fat from a lamb or cow.
A kilocalorie equals 1000 calories or one Calorie – with a capital ‘c’ – and represents the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of water by one degree Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit). In physics, a Calorie equals 1000 calories. But nutritionists use the terms calorie and Calorie interchangeably. Go figure.
My grandma (and perhaps yours) cooked with lard on a regular basis. That was back before manufacturers began to push vegetable oils such as Crisco and Parkay, claiming these chemically-altered substances were healthier for us. But no.
Lard is high in saturated fat compared to most vegetable-based oils which are hydrogenated to change the oils to solids. Hydrogenated foods have a longer shelf life and imitate the taste and feel (in the mouth) of the other types of hard fats – pork fat, for instance.
Saturated fat is tightly packed and is found in red meat, pork, chicken, and dairy products. Unsaturated fats, in contrast, are loosely packed. They tend to liquefy at room temperature. Unsaturated fat comes from vegetable oils, olives, nuts, seeds, and certain types of fish.
For years, medical experts have insisted that a diet full of saturated fats drastically increases the odds of getting heart disease or having a stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises getting a scant 5-6 percent of our daily calories from saturated fat.
To put this in terms we can all understand, anyone on a 2000-calorie-a-day diet should limit their saturated fat consumption to 120 calories, according to the AHA.
As you may recall, 3.5 ounces of pork fat has 632 calories so a single ounce (28.3 grams) has about 180 calories. The AHA recommendation for a heart-healthy diet includes less than one ounce of lard daily – 2/3 of an ounce, to be exact.
In point of fact, lard contains less saturated fat than butter. According to Mother Earth News, “New research shows that saturated fat is not the heart-slayer it was once deemed to be, whereas the trans fats found in hydrogenated fats are worse for us than we realized.”
Pig fat can be used rendered or unrendered. Steaming, boiling, or dry heat is applied in the rendering process to convert waste animal tissue into stable, usable materials. Rendering both dries the tissue and separates the fat from the bone and protein. Rendering produces fat as a yellow grease, choice white grease, or bleachable fancy tallow and a protein (meat and bone) meal.
Pig fat is semi-soft and white. You can remove it from any pork product or purchase it in blocks wrapped in paper.
Bakers love lard because it makes dough flaky and delicious. It is a mainstay for savory dishes such as sausage and pâté.
Although high in saturated fatty acids, lard has absolutely no trans fat – also called unsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids. Trans fats raise blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. A diet high in trans fats is linked to heart disease.
The Mayo Clinic says many doctors consider trans fat (trans-fatty acid) to be the worst type of fat we can eat.
That 3.5 ounces of lard costs, on average, less than a dollar – 95 cents.
Which foods bested #8 pork fat in terms of their nutritional value? Here they are, with calories (kcal) and costs per 100 grams (3.5 ounces):
- Swiss chard – 19kcal, $0.29
- Pumpkin seeds (and other squashes) – 559kcal, $1.60
- Chia seeds – 486kcal, $1.76
- Flatfish (sole and flounder) – 70kcal, $1.15
- Atlantic Ocean perch (rockfish) – 79kcal, $0.82
- Cherimoya (a fruit) – 75kcal, $1.84
- Almonds – 579kcal, $0.91
At 95 cents per 100-gram portion, pork fat falls right about in the middle of the top eight nutritious foods when you consider cost.
This is great news for those of us who like to live life large and high on the hog.