Cooking with animal fats vs. “vegetable oils”
Lard is pork fat, tallow is beef fat and schmaltz is chicken or duck fat and If you were to go to the supermarket and pick up a ready-made product and see one of these fats in it, or wanted to try a recipe which called for one of these fats, chances are you would cringe. We have been conditioned to think that animal fat consumption is a quick way to an early death by clogging our arteries and the opposite is true with the consumption of vegetable oils such as canola, corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed oil, and soy, as a substitute for animal fats. However, don’t be fooled by the stereotypical profiles of each and especially the wholesomeness of the above mentioned “vegetable oils” because the truth is more complex than that. These oils typically seen in many products at the supermarket are hardly vegetables. Some fall under the umbrella of industrial oils, have had their genetics modified, and have been tampered with in other ways in the past few decades that make me question their healthfulness over a long exposure time.
Animal fats have been used for centuries due to their versatility and ability to withstand high cooking temperatures without smoking. The smoking point temperature is an indicator that the fat or oil is breaking down and oxidizing, which means harmful free radicals are being created. Therefore, cooking a healthy oil like olive oil which has a lower smoking point is not advised at high temperatures. Lard has about 20% less saturated fat, and one third the cholesterol than butter, has a high oleic oil content and monosaturated percentage (which is good for our cardiovascular system) that rivals olive oil. If choosing a healthy animal fat, it’s important to look at how the animal was raised. There is a difference in lard from pasture raised pigs then those raised in concentrated animal feed lots. Cheaper lard may be bleached and hydrogenated to make it last longer. With an animal that was living a free-range life, it’s fat will have the fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K which supports our immunity and general health. Free range animals also have an omega 3:6 ratio that is healthier than many vegetable oils. Ideally a 1:1 ratio is what you want While schmaltz needs to be refrigerated and has a limited shelf life of only a week, lard can stay unrefrigerated for 4-6 months and tallow doesn’t need to be refrigerated for up to a year.
Industrial vegetable oils
Some vegetable oils such as soy, corn, canola, and cottonseed are for the most part, modern inventions that have been introduced into our diets in the past 50-60 years. Canola oil made from the rapeseed plant, a bitter tasting plant was only fed to livestock or used for industrial machinery because it contains erucic acid which is toxic to humans. However, in the 1970’s Canadian scientists developed Canola which stands for Canadian oil, low acid. Although canola, and many of these oils listed above profile well in fatty acid distribution and high smoke points in cooking tests, there is still some residual erucic acid in canola oil (about 2%) that over time that could present a problem to us. Canola oil consumption has also been linked to vitamin E deficiency and a shortened life span in animal studies prone to strokes. Almost all cottonseed oil, soy oil and corn oil, is made from cotton, soy and corn from genetically modified seeds that have the pesticide glyphosate in the seed. Lecithin, a product extracted from soybean oil, is a natural emulsifier and lubricant used in many foods and industrial applications. As an emulsifier, it helps products maintain a smooth quality because it binds two disparate chemicals together. Sunflower and safflower oils have one of the worst profiles of omega 6:3 ratios which causes inflammation in our bodies. Ideally you would find a 1:1 ratio in a healthy fat such as grass-fed tallow or macadamia nut oil, their profiles are in the 40:1 ratio for sunflower and 133:1 for safflower oil.
Processing of the vegetable oils
Not only do these vegetable oils have remnants of naturally occurring chemicals that could be toxic to humans, they undergo a series of refining processes that need artificial chemical solvents such as hexane (a byproduct of gasoline production and a neurotoxin), steamers, neutralizers, de-waxers, bleach and deodorizers before they wind up in a bottle or the deep fryer of your local restaurant. Unfortunately, all industrial oils undergo RBD which stands for refining, bleaching and deodorizing and this in turn creates unhealthy trans fatty acids. If you want to see a disturbing video on how they refine canola oil watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omjWmLG0EAs&feature=youtu.be&t=47s
The advantages of this refining process are by removing impurities in the oil, the oil becomes more stable at higher temperatures and better able to withstand the frying and baking processes often used with processed foods. But is exposure to the chemical processes worth it? Is this safer than the animal fats we historically used before man- made “vegetable oils” became available?
When looking in your pantry at home and seeing ingredients on labels such as lecithin, soybean oil, or canola oil, on different products even from those from the healthy aisle of your supermarket, you may want to think about the health implications of the chemical exposure that these oils introduce to our bodies.
By far the best vegetable oils are those that are organic expeller pressed. Ironically, organic expeller pressed canola has an impressive omega 3:6 ratio, but it still has erucic acid in it so I cannot recommend it. Conversely, buying non-organic lard from the supermarket doesn’t come close to meeting my criteria for health because those pigs are fed a diet of canola cake and GMO corn and soy.
Better choices in both areas would be organic, unrefined, cold-expeller pressed oils from this list of real vegetables and seeds and grass-fed animal fats.
High smoke points medium smoke points sautéing or for salads
avocado oil (350 deg.) Nutiva palm oil (300 deg.) sesame oil
almond oil hemp oil
coconut oil olive oil
rice bran oil walnut oil
ghee (clarified butter) (450 deg.) regular butter flax seed oil
Its buyer beware when food shopping, and in my opinion, be wary of buying man made foods with the above-mentioned industrial oils. They should be avoided as much as possible and more natural vegetable options listed above should be substituted. Don’t be fooled if you read a label on these industrial oils that says: “contains zero grams of trans fats”. What that really means is per serving, which is one tablespoon. According to the FDA .5 grams of trans fat per tablespoon can be listed as zero grams. As far as animal fats used in cooking, it is also something that should not be overly consumed but if organic, and used in moderation, in comparison to RBD industrial oils, a more healthy and biocompatible option.