For over 60 years, governing health bodies have pushed to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and in cooking oils – this means switching to an array of vegetable oils over animal fats. The low-fat diet was the new rage, and we were told to replace saturated animal fats with “healthier” alternatives like processed soy, canola, and other vegetable oils. But are these oils actually healthy? Multiple new studies still prove that consuming vegetables oils did help lower LDL cholesterol by 14%, but this did not correlate to lower rates of heart disease or an increased risk for heart related deaths. Research in the past ten years has indicated insufficient evidence to tie saturated fats to heart disease.
Fat isn’t actually bad for you if consumed in a balanced diet – and we need certain fats in our diets for energy and cell protection. Fat is a major source of fuel that our bodies need to be active and get through the day, and helps absorb essential vitamins and minerals into our bodies. Fat also builds our cell membranes and creates a strong exterior that helps block out and protect against certain inflammatory diseases and some cancers. Eating the right fats, and a balanced fat diet, is the key for long term health and boosting our cell membranes.
Balancing your Omega-6 and Omega-3 intake is essential for our body’s cells. These fatty acids do not occur naturally, so we must consume them in our diet. Animal fats deliver an almost perfect balance, which are essential for growth, and are crucial for anti-inflammatory effects in our cells. When this balance is off, things can go terribly wrong in our immune systems. As humans have evolved, a healthy ratio of Omega-6 to 3 would be around 4:1 to 1:2. In the past 50 years this number has increased three fold and Americans currently sit around a 16:1 ratio. The vegetable oil push is mostly to blame, as they have very high levels of Omega-6, without any Omega-3 to help combat inflammation. The lack of balancing Omega-3’s can lead to structural changes in our fat stores and cell membranes, and contributes to obesity and increases our risk for many diseases and certain types of cancers.
There are four main types of fats – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. These fatty acid structures are different due to their bonds to hydrogen. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered the “good fats” according to multiple large health organizations. Saturated fats and trans fats have been labeled as the
“bad fats”. However recent studies show that saturated fats now fall somewhere in the middle, and trans fats have recently been banned by the FDA for health concerns. Saturated fat is a type of fat in which the fatty acid chains have all or predominantly single bonds. Unsaturated fat has at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain. Monounsaturated has one double bond. Polyunsaturated has more than one double bond. Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that is not common in nature but can be produced when vegetable fats are hydrogenated through chemical reactions to become saturated fats. Trans fats have recently been banned by the FDA due to their harmful effects on our cardiovascular health.
When it comes to Animal Fats, tallow and lard specifically, they contain both monounsaturated and saturated fats. The reason they hold up so well to high heat cooking is due to their single bonds. The chain structure is stronger therefore oxidation is reduced and less chemicals are released into the oil as well as the air. If you’re a heavy duty frying operation, using Animal Fats not only is safer for your food, your oil will last longer and the food will taste better as the oil does not oxidize like that of vegetable oils. Oxidation breeds free radicals which damage cells, tissues, and organs in the body, so having a higher heat tolerance and less oxidation is ideal for any deep frying. You will actually taste the flavor of the food as opposed to the oil.
Tallow and lard contain almost a 55/45 ratio of saturated fats to monounsaturated fats. Rich in the fats that also help raise your good cholesterol, it’s hard to place them in a category as damaging as trans fats. In 2014, the new book The Big Fat Surprise, written by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz was published. She tosses conventional thoughts about all fats to the side, and concludes that more, not less, dietary fat – including saturated fat – is what leads to better health, wellness, and fitness.
Society has been told for years to stay away from animal fats, that they are “bad” for our health and lead to increased risk for heart disease – but the science behind this claim is falsely misleading, inconclusive, and truly doesn’t tell the whole story. They are a traditional and natural fat our bodies need to function. They provide many health benefits such as protecting our cells, reducing inflammation, and aid in lowering the risk of many diseases and certain types of cancers.