Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fat: Why We Cook with Butter, Ghee, and Grease

Joseph's Cooking Notes:


Around 10 years ago, I lost 45 pounds on a low-fat diet. I ate many whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, abundant low-fat meat and protein, and kept my fat intake around 10%. After about two years on this diet, I developed what doctors call irritable bowel syndrome. Trust me, you don’t want your bowels mad at you. I’ll spare you the details.

But the cure for me involved adding fat back into my diet—and not flax oil, or soybean oil, or hydrogenated plastic can’t believe it’s not butter or whatever. I mean ANIMAL FAT. I can hear a collective hush from the health fiends, such as myself. But I’m convinced that animal fat has been unfairly demonized. Here are a few facts about animal fats that I seldom hear from the hysterical food police:

  • Study after study by doctors and others who ventured into the wilds to meet with “savages” found that they had problems with parasites, infections, and malaria, but no heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
  • Once “civilization” brought its foods to these “savages,” they began to suffer from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
  • Many of these tribal people had excellent health, perfectly straight teeth going back generations, and uncomplicated births—again this changed with the introduction of white flour, sugar, and other modern foods.
  • The healthiest tribes’ diets were high in fat and protein. They consumed a wide variety of foods, obtained most of their fat from animal sources, and had no access to sugar, white flour, vegetable oils, flax oil, vitamins, and all the other modern inventions which some people consider “health food.”
Many people fear saturated fat. I can’t tell you how many people look at a pat of butter and try to tell me it will clog my arteries. The types of fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated and polyunsaturated (Lancet 1994 344:1195). Though not all animal fats are highly saturated, it really doesn’t matter to me if they are.

Saturated fats do a lot of good stuff. They hold up better under high heat. [Lianne adds: You don’t want to consume fats “damaged" by heat; see article link at the end of this post.] Saturated fats also boost your immune system, protect your liver, and strengthen your bones. The lungs and the kidneys don’t function without saturated fat.

Saturated fats do not cause heart disease. [Here's what a heart surgeon has to say about that.] In fact, saturated fats are the preferred food for the heart. It’s surrounded by a protective cushion of it. Because your body needs saturated fats, it makes them out of carbohydrates and excess protein when there are not enough in the diet.

So please don’t be afraid of animal fats. If you’re going to be afraid of something, be afraid of foods made in a laboratory, unnatural, chemical oddities and additives, flavor enhancers and mood elevators.


I use ghee in many of my recipes. Ghee is clarified butter. You can make your own by melting butter and scraping the fluffy stuff off the top, but it’s easier to just buy it. I use ghee more often than butter because Lianne is lactose intolerant, and ghee doesn’t have any lactose. It has a unique, extra-buttery flavor that works well most of the time, but sometimes I have to use good old-fashioned, unsalted butter (with no additives or “natural flavors”) because I’m trying for a specific flavor. Read the ingredients list on your butter package and make sure it has only sweet cream and/or maybe some fermentation cultures.

A few of my recipes may have suet, cocoa butter, or lard, depending on what combination of flavors I’m trying to put together or what I’ve got on hand. I save and re-use my bacon grease, purchase pig and beef fat from a local farmer (because his pigs and beef are pastured), and render the lard.


If you’re still in doubt, read this from the Weston A. Price Foundation.

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