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Many Americans would be shocked to learn that not a small part of Eastern Europe starts a cold winter day with a hearty breakfast of lard on rye bread instead of butter or margarine on toast. But are margarine and butter really better than lard?

A topic you don't see every day in the USA is "What are the health benefits of lard?"

Millions of Americans don't even know what lard is. For those who don't, lard consists of pig fat, either in its raw form, taken from fatty portions of the hog, or rendered, by boiling or frying pork, skimming off the fat, and allowing the fat to cool. Lard has a high smoke point, allowing high-temperature cooking. High-temperature cooking makes the outside of food crispy, and allows the interior of the food to remain tender and juicy. Lard has a distinctive flavor, and it can be used to make flaky pastry, especially pie crust or American-style savory biscuits.

Lard is solid but spreadable at room temperature. You can't spill lard the way you can spill vegetable and nut oils. Unlike margarine, it contains no trans- fats. Butter contains 45 percent "healthy" fat. Lard contains 60 percent healthy fat. Most of the healthy fat in lard is oleic acid, the same healthy fat found in olive oil. There is cholesterol in lard, about the same amount as found in butter, about 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams of fat. You would have to eat 210 grams (2100 calories) of lard to get the amount of fat allowed on a low-cholesterol diet. 

So what's not to love about lard?

  • The quality of lard depends on what the pigs that produced it ate. Pigs that fed on acorns produce delicious, nutty-flavored lard. Pigs that lived in a sty where they could eat mice and rats might not be quite as delicious.
  • Lard is hard to find in the market, at least in the United States. The lard Americans can buy is loaded with chemicals that keep it stable so it can sit on a shelf for months waiting for someone to buy it.
  • Lard is obesogenic. The fats in lard encourage fat to stay inside fat cells. Back in the era when food was often scarce, this was considered a good thing. Lard made it easier to fatten up and survive a hard winter or a summer famine. In modern times, lard in the diet makes it harder to lose weight.
  • Lard is inflammatory. The omega-6 fatty acids in lard encourage the production of inflammation-generating hormones. Before modern times, this was a good thing. Inflammatory hormones power the immune response. They are essential for the body to fight infection. In modern times, we get too many omega-6 fatty acids, far more than we need, so much that they overwhelm the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in our diets, so we have diseases of inflammation rather than diseases caused by infection.
  • The omega-6 fat in lard encourages insulin resistance. The liver is not as able to respond to insulin so blood sugar levels stay higher longer. Lard in the diet can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Lard can go bad. Lard typically isn't refrigerated. Opening the container time and time again exposes the fat to oxygen in the atmosphere, which can form toxic free radicals that, inside the body, encourage "good" cholesterol to go "bad,"
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