More on Fats, Particularly Coconut Oil and Lard

This is a follow-up to my Embrace the Fat post, where I attempt to answer all your burning questions about lard and coconut oil.

Before I go on, PLEASE remember, I’m not an expert.  I’m just learning as I go, and the nutrition and medical communities (yes, they are quite different, actually) are not necessarily on board with this information, so keep that in mind, do your own research, and do what you believe is best.

Where do you get lard?

Lard is hard to come by, and for the full nutritional benefit, you want to buy lard from pastured pigs.  I get mine through my buying club — a group of nearby farmers pool their resources to provide a wide variety of traditional foods and deliver them on designated days at various drop off spots throughout the suburbs.  You may be able to find a similar resource in your area by searching EatWild.com.

You can also render your own lard, but I haven’t tried that. The Nourishing Gourmet has a great post all about it.

Can you tell us more about coconut oil?

Coconut oil probably deserves its own post, actually. It’s important that you buy high quality coconut oil. I buy mine by the gallon when I find it for a good price online. The most important thing is to find coconut oil that is cold-pressed. (Same with olive oil, by the way.) This is because when oil is extracted at high temperatures, the oil becomes oxidized, which is thought to be carcinogenic.

I’m discovering that there are many terms to describe coconut oil – refined, unrefined, minimally refined, cold-pressed, and on it goes.  There are no official terms, so the best thing is to buy from a reputable company and try to get oil that is processed as little as possible.  Kelly has a great post on Where to Buy Coconut Oil.

What are some uses for coconut oil?

Coconut oil does have a mild coconut flavor, so I mainly use it in baked goods and homemade breads.  I also use it to make popcorn on the stove top (so much better for you than that microwave chemical-pop.)  You can fry foods in it (just be careful not to raise the temp too high; you don’t want it to smoke — remember, that’s not healthy with any oil) but I generally use olive oil or lard (or butter) to fry and saute foods.  Some people fry their eggs in coconut oil, but I use butter for that.

I use coconut oil in baked soaked oatmeal and homemade granola.  When a waffle or pancake recipe calls for vegetable oil, I use coconut oil.  I don’t mind the flavor at all.  Some people do buy refined coconut oil that’s processed using moderate temperatures because it has less flavor, but I haven’t bothered buying that.

Coconut oil is also great as a topical skin treatment.  I put it on my face at night, I rub it into my hands when I’m cooking with it, and it is supposedly a great treatment for eczema.

What about vegetable oils?

There are a lot of problems with commercial vegetable oils.  Vegetable oils (polyunsaturated) are extracted at extremely high temperatures, creating free radicals and destroying any nutrients that may have been present in the vegetable.  As a result, these oils are already rancid when they reach our supermarket shelves.  Plus, toxic chemical solvents are used in this processing.  Also, most commercial vegetable oils contain a ton of Omega 6 fats and very little Omega 3 fats, and that imbalance is a problem in the Western diet.

The worst vegetable oils, of course, are those that are partially hydrogenated (trans fats).  Here is an explanation of the hydrogenation process from the article The Skinny on Fats from the WAPF site:

[Hydrogenation] is the process that turns polyunsaturates, normally liquid at room temperature, into fats that are solid at room temperature-margarine and shortening. To produce them, manufacturers begin with the cheapest oils-soy, corn, cottonseed or canola, already rancid from the extraction process-and mix them with tiny metal particles-usually nickel oxide. The oil with its nickel catalyst is then subjected to hydrogen gas in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Next, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture to give it a better consistency; the oil is yet again subjected to high temperatures when it is steam-cleaned. This removes its unpleasant odor. Margarine’s natural color, an unappetizing grey, is removed by bleach. Dyes and strong flavors must then be added to make it resemble butter. Finally, the mixture is compressed and packaged in blocks or tubs and sold as a health food.

And here is your explanation for why saturated fats have gotten such a bum rap, also from the same article:

In the 1940’s, researchers found a strong correlation between cancer and the consumption of fat-the fats used were hydrogenated fats although the results were presented as though the culprit were saturated fats. In fact, until recently saturated fats were usually lumped together with trans fats in the various U.S. data bases that researchers use to correlate dietary trends with disease conditions. Thus, natural saturated fats were tarred with the black brush of unnatural hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Finally, the end of the same article has a great synopsis of fats and oils:

Our choice of fats and oils is one of extreme importance.  Most people, especially infants and growing children, benefit from more fat in the diet rather than less.  But the fats we eat must be chosen with care.  Avoid all processed foods containing newfangled hydrogenated fats and polyunsaturated oils.  [NOTE: See why I love this lady?  Anyone who uses the word newfangled is a friend of mine.]   Instead, use traditional vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil and small amounts of unrefined flax seed oil.  Acquaint yourself with the merits of coconut oil for baking and with animal fats for occasional frying.  Eat eggs yolks and other animal fats with the proteins to which they are attached. And, finally, use as much good quality butter as you like, with the happy assurance that it is a wholesome — indeed, an essential — food for you and your whole family.

Yes, my information comes primarily from one article.  There is a lot of info out there on this topic, but this seemed to be the most concise.