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Over the last few decades, lard (also known as pig fat or pork fat) has received a seriously bad rap.

Health experts used to decry the practice of consuming lard in any form, claiming that it was packed with saturated fat – you know, the “bad” kind of fat.

However, recent research has proven that lard isn’t as bad for you as you might think. It is, in fact, healthier than many other types of fat. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s Actually Low in Saturated Fat

Doctors used to caution against eating lard, claiming that it was full of saturated fat that could clog your arteries and make you sick. However, saturated fat only makes up about 40% of the fat in lard. That number is reassuring, as are the many recent studies that suggest that eating more saturated fat doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease and can, instead, lower your risk when combined with a low-sugar diet.

Compared to other fats, including butter and coconut oil, lard has more monounsaturated fat. This is the same type of fat that olive oil is praised for. Lard has 35-50% monounsaturated fat while butter has only 32% – coconut oil has a measly 6%.

It’s Better for High-Heat Cooking

Lard is one of the few oils that doesn’t go rancid or smoke as easily as other fats. Since it has more saturated fat, it has a higher smoke point – it’s chemical composition is very stable. Vegetable fats, on the other hand, tend to go bad quickly.

It Adds Vitamin D to your Diet

Unlike all other fats (with the exception of butter), lard can add beneficial vitamin D to your diet. If you suffer from low levels of vitamin D, lard can help supplement what your body needs and craves. Olive oil has no vitamin D, while one tablespoon contains 1000 IU of vitamin D. Just make sure you use lard from a pasture-raised pig – one raised in a dark confinement house is not going to provide you with the same benefits.

It Contains Oleic Acid

Most of the monounsaturated fat found in lard is actually oleic acid. This fatty acid is the same compound found in olive oil and has received praised for decreasing LDLs and lowering bad cholesterol.

It’s More Environmentally Friendly

…to a degree, of course. If you have an olive tree in your backyard, for all I know, producing your own olive oil might be more economically and environmentally friendly for you.

However, for most people who raise their own animals, producing your own lard is much more eco-friendly. You aren’t relying on a product that was shipped halfway around the world and you also can save some money, too.

It Reduces Your Exposure to Aldehydes

Certain vegetable oils, when heated, release concentrations of aldehydes into your body. These have been closely linked to heart disease, cancer, and even dementia. When studied, olive oil, butter, and yes, lard, produced lower levels of aldehydes (coconut oil produced the least).  Eating too many vegetable oils can also lead to a loss of omega-3s.

What to Keep in Mind

Without a doubt, lard is healthier for you than just about any type of oil. However, there are a few caveats. Commercial lard is not nearly as good for you as the homemade stuff – it likely contains trans fat and very little vitamin D. It also won’t be as good for cooking.

Instead, you should make your own homemade lard from pasture-raised pork. And remember that no matter how much better it is for you, it should still be consumed in moderation. You should get no more than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat, according to USDA guidelines. Anything higher can increase your risk of heart disease.

While the jury is still out on whether lard is healthier than olive oil, it is without a doubt healthier than other fats, like butter or vegetable oils. So while it might not make sense to swap out lard in all of your cooking, it can definitely lend a helping hand in certain recipes (like pie crusts or buttery biscuits) where olive oil doesn’t quite make sense.

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