Back in your grandmother’s day, a good home-cooked meal included biscuits made with lard, chicken-fried crisp in lard, greens seasoned with ham hocks, all topped off by a cake that would melt in your mouth — thanks to a pound of butter in the batter. And no one thought a thing of eating all that fat, except mmm, this is goo-ood.
In the 1970s research found that the increasing incidence of cardiovascular disease in the United States was directly related to a high intake of fat — particularly saturated fat, the type that’s in lard, butter and ham hocks. So, we revamped our recipes and our grocery lists, substituting heart-healthy fats, like margarine and corn oil, and buying low-fat and fat-free versions of our favorite goodies.
But then we learned that margarines have “trans-fat” — which acts like saturated fat, raising cholesterol levels and clogging arteries. So, we ditched the margarine, and started working magic in the kitchen with heart-healthy olive oil and canola oil.
And now? The experts have started to say that “splurging” on lard every now and then may actually be good for your heart.
Confused? Who wouldn’t be? But here are the fast facts on fats:
There are three types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. And, all fats and oils are made up of some combination of the three. You want the fats you eat to be low in cholesterol-raising sat-fats and trans-fats, but higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol.
Margarine is made with hydrogenated vegetable oils that contain trans-fats, or polyunsaturated fats that have been chemically changed to make them stay solid at room temperature. They may act as saturated fat in the body, raising cholesterol levels.
The verdict: Margarine is fine but check the nutrition facts panel and select those with zero trans-fat.
Vegetable shortening is also made with hydrogenated oil that contain trans-fat.
The verdict: Use sparingly, and stick to varieties made with palm or coconut oil; they are trans-fat free.
Butter contains saturated fats that raise cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature, and are also found in other animal-derived foods like meat, bacon, poultry, eggs and other dairy products.
The verdict: In moderation, butter won’t kill you. Opt for whipped or light butter – same great taste, half the saturated fat.