Americans have been told that eating saturated animal fats will clog our arteries and kill us. We are told that we need to eat only fats made from vegetable oil, modern oils, such as corn oil, soy oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and other oils that could not even be made before the twentieth century.
The truth of the matter is that fat from healthy animals eating their natural diet is very good for us, providing vital nutrients in the right proportion, and supporting the natural functions of our bodies.
Modern vegetable oils have a huge imbalance of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance contributes to many illnesses, and causes inflammation in many people. Our bodies have never tried to digest or use these oils before the twentieth century, because they just did not exist. These oils are often processed with chemicals, and subjected to pressures and high heat, which makes them even stranger to our bodies. Some of these oils stink so bad in their natural state that chemical deodorizers are used to hide the bad smell.
Humans crave healthy animal fats, because we know instinctively that they are good for us.
Most people think only of butter when they think of an animal fat they might use in cooking. Pastured butter is great, but there are many other animal fats that are great for cooking and eating.
Grassfed Beef Tallow
Beef tallow is one of the oldest human foods, used for cooking and added to all kinds of foods for countless thousands of years. In its real form, from grassfed animals, beef tallow is full of vital nutrients. It was traditionally used for every form of frying, with potatoes fried in beef tallow being a favorite food all over Europe and America. It was used to brown meat for traditional stews and pot roasts, to sauté steaks, and to baste roasting meat. It gives wonderful flavor. Vegetables roasted in beef tallow are crusty and caramelized, absolutely delicious. Grassfed beef tallow is one of my very favorite cooking fats, and I use it often. I consider it important to only use beef tallow from grassfed beef, as it has the proper balance of nutrients and tastes so much better.
Unhydrogenated Pastured Pork Lard
Pork lard has been so vilified that many people are horrified by the very thought of eating it. Yet real pork lard was once the most popular cooking and eating fat on the planet.
Pork lard was used extensively for cooking in China, other Asian countries, Latin America, Europe, and the United States. Many traditional American and European baking recipes make extensive use of pork lard. Pork lard has a very high smoke point, and is one of the easiest cooking fats to use, being soft even when refrigerated, and perfect for frying, sautéing, basting, and browning. It lends great flavor to food, and is very nutritious and easily absorbed by the body.
You have to be very careful in selecting pork lard, because most of the pork lard sold in the U.S. is hydrogenated, which means that its very chemical structure has been changed by processing to increase its shelf life. I have knowingly eaten hydrogenated pork lard exactly once, and found it disgusting, with a terrible taste. Real pork lard, from pastured pigs, in its natural form, is wonderful.
Grassfed Lamb Tallow
You can use grassfed lamb tallow for frying, sautéing , basting, and roasting. It gives incredible flavor. It is important to make sure that food cooked with lamb tallow is served hot, as congealed lamb tallow can feel greasy. Serve the food hot, and it is wonderful. Potatoes and other vegetables are particularly wonderful roasted in this fat, which lends a nutty, delicious flavor to food.
It is also important to use lamb tallow from a meat breed of lamb, as the taste of the fat from wool breeds can be strong and not very appealing. But the flavor given by grassfed lamb tallow from meat breeds is unbelievably delicious.
Grassfed Bison Tallow
Bison fat was one of the staple foods of the Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains, being a vital component of their survival food, pemmican. Bison fat just may be the most nutritious of all, being full of nutrients from the strong, healthy bison. It is great for basting, frying, and sautéing. It gives a wonderful flavor to meat, unique yet wonderful. It is particularly good for sautéing at medium temperatures. Adding just a bit of bison fat to stews will do incredible things for the flavor.
It is important that all of these traditional fats be grassfed or pastured. That way, you are eating the same kind of animal fat our ancestors have been eating since the beginning, and getting similar nutritional benefits.
But where do you find grassfed beef tallow?
Where do you find real pastured pork lard that has not been hydrogenated?
Where do you find grassfed lamb tallow from a meat breed?
Where do you find grassfed bison fat?
A local farmer may have any of these. But you can get all of them from U.S. Wellness Meats, which has done us all a great service by making these hard-to-get real animal fats available. The quality is superb, and I happily use all of them.
We are seeing an epidemic of mental illness and poor mental functioning that may be without parallel in human history. The frequency of many mental illnesses is expanding an alarming rate. A huge and constantly increasing percentage of children are being diagnosed with learning disabilities. The psychiatric profession claims that the increase is due to “better diagnosis,” and that the problems were always there, but I disagree.
When I was a child, learning disabilities were pretty much unknown. So what is the cause of the vast increase in mental illness and learning disabilities?
In my opinion, it is malnutrition. To be more specific, it is the lack of enough good fat in most diets. Because the very saturated fats that our brains need to develop and function properly have been demonized and removed from the diets of so many people, especially children.
Our Brains Need Saturated Fat
We are constantly told that saturated fat, especially saturated animal fat, is deadly, and will clog our arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes. This theory has never been proven, but is generally accepted as fact, due to persistent marketing by the industries who make a fortune from this false belief.
Most people, throughout most of history, have cherished saturated animal fat as their most valued and sacred food. Heart attacks and strokes were very rare throughout most of human history, despite the widespread eating of saturated animal fat in large amounts.
The truth can be seen in the composition of mother’s milk. Nobody really denies anymore that mother’s milk is the very best and healthiest food for babies. Yet more than half the calories in mother’s milk is from saturated animal fat. Nature herself has thus proclaimed the need for saturated animal fat.
Our brains our made largely from fat, and need fat and cholesterol to maintain themselves and function properly. Our ancestors knew this, and many traditional remedies for grief and depression involved the eating of rich, fatty foods. People who had lost loved ones were constantly urged to eat fatty foods. It helped calm the mind.
Dr. Weston A. Price designed a special lunch program for some poor children in Ohio. He intended the diet to improve the health of their teeth. It was a diet very high in saturated animal fat, containing plenty of marrow, grassfed meat fat, butter, and whole milk. Not only did the teeth of the children improve substantially, but their performance in school went from horrible to superb, as reported by their teachers.
Grassfed Fats Are Better
Unfortunately, not all saturated fat is the same. Prior to the twentieth century, most saturated animal fat came from animals fed their natural diet. For grass eating animals such as cattle, sheep, and bison, this meant grass. The twentieth century saw the introduction of feedlots and grain feeding for these animals. The change in diet made their fat different. While the fat of a grassfed animal has a perfect balance of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids, grain feeding causes a huge imbalance in the ratio, creating a great excess of omega-6 fatty acids. Excess omega-6 fatty acids have been associated with a number of illnesses. The chemicals used in the raising and feeding of factory cattle also changed the content of the fat, to something that had never been eaten by humans before. The change in the composition of the fatty acid ratio is shown in this chart and the accompanying article, Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products.
While the full effect of the change in the composition of animal fats from grain feeding is not fully known, I am much happier eating the same traditional fats that humanity has always eaten.
The best way we can get the good saturated animal fats our brains need, in the proper form, is to eat plenty of fat from healthy grassfed animals. I eat the fat on the meat, use the grassfed tallow in cooking, and eat plenty of grassfed butter, milk, cheese, and cream.
Since I have done so, my mental functioning, which was always good, has improved greatly, allowing me to learn new things much faster and to think quickly and effectively. In fact, with my traditional diet, I learn more as time passes.
The question of what Paleolithic people actually ate is hard to answer, and the Paleo and Primal communities are divided. One of the biggest controversies is whether Paleolithic peoples ate lean meat and had little fat in their diet, or whether they ate all the animal fat they could get, and plenty of it.
There is some evidence, in the form of bone piles in caves, and there is the research of Dr. Weston A. Price, who actually met and studied the diets of traditional peoples who lived completely by hunting and gathering.
It appears that hunter-gatherers, whether in Paleolithic times, or in the twentieth century, prized animal fat as one of their most crucial foods, and ate as much of it as they could get.
The Evidence for Lean Meat
When the Paleo eating ideas were first expressed, the belief was that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate lean meat, not fat. One of the strongest reasons to support this theory is that the meat of wild game is much leaner than the meat of domestic animals. The old hunters ate wild game, which has lean meat. While this is true, the fact is that wild game animals, especially older animals, actually have plenty of fat, especially in the late fall, when they put on extra fat to prepare for winter.
The fat is not in the meat, but in a huge layer of fat in the back, and in the internal organs, and in the bones, in the form of marrow.
The other basis for thinking that early peoples ate lean meat appears to be based on the common false belief that animal fat is unhealthy. Actually, fat from grassfed and pastured animals is a vital nutrient as seen in the article The Skinny on Fats.
The Evidence for Eating Fat
Some caves have been found that were occupied by early hunter-gatherers. Along with pits showing the use of fire, there is almost always something else—a bone pile. The bones are those of wild animals, and the bones have been split open. It is universally assumed that the bones were split open so the hunters could eat the bone marrow. In addition to being one of the most nutritious foods that can be eaten—bone marrow is almost 100 percent animal fat.
Dr. Weston A. Price met and studied several peoples who got all their food by hunting and gathering. This was in the 1930s. One of the peoples he studied lived in the far north of Canada, and got most of their food from hunting, as gathering was impossible during much of the year. The diet of these people had never changed in the memory of the tribes, and so could have been the same in very early times.
This native people preferred to hunt older animals, because these animals had more fat. They ate liberally of the back fat and the fatty organs, as much as they could get. They had perfect teeth and no disease, even though they were deprived of all plant foods for most of the year.
The Inuit, who lived even further north, valued the fat of sea mammals, game animals, and fish above all other foods. They would throw the lean meat to their dogs, and eat the fat and organs themselves. They would often eat pure animal fat, in addition to the fatty meats. It is likely that their traditional diet had been the same for uncounted thousands of years. These people were also free of tooth decay and had no chronic illnesses.
The traditional diet of the Native Americans was recorded when they were contacted by Europeans, and it is clear that the hunting peoples ate as much animal fat as they could get, and valued animal fat as a survival food. The Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains lived mainly off the bison herds.
Now, bison is a very lean meat. But bison carry a huge amount of fat in their humps, and the hump was the most prized part of the bison. The Native Americans of the Great Plains made most of the bison into a survival food called pemmican, which would keep indefinitely without spoiling. Pemmican was one-third dried lean meat, one-third dried fruit, and one-third bison fat, mostly from the hump. It was very nutritious.
These are just a few examples, and I could provide many more. In fact, it appears that every hunting people ever studied ate plenty of animal fat from their prey.
If you want to eat a diet similar to those of Paleolithic peoples, you would do well to eat plenty of animal fat from grassfed animals and wild game, in my opinion.
Our ancestors usually ate their food in season. This did not just apply to fruits and vegetables, but also to meats which were available all year round. In Europe and America, this used to mean that a great deal of animal fat was eaten during the winter. In fact, the people who lived in cold climates, all over the world, prized animal fat and ate a great deal of it when the weather was cold. This enabled people to survive and thrive in some very cold climates, even within the arctic circle.
This was not just done for cultural reasons, but because of an important fact I just learned for myself—animal fat makes winter better—much better.
The Problem with Winter
Cold weather had always been difficult for humans. In fact, many people counted winters rather than years when describing someone’s age. To these people, surviving the winter was a real accomplishment. It has been more common for people to get sick and die during a cold winter. There are several reasons for this. There is little sunlight, which means much less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial for the proper functioning of the immune system. The cold is a strain on the body, which is made worse by rain and snow, much worse by freezing weather and blizzards. Most people just try to stay warm and dry.
But our ancestors did not consider shelter to be enough. They had another remedy for winter that was very important to them—animal fat.
Traditional Winter Foods
Many European peoples would eat fattier foods during winter. Even the game they hunted put on fat for the winter, so older, fatter animals were prized at that time. Rich pork dishes from fat pigs, using lard and the skin, were winter favorites. Fatty lamb roasts and stews were a winter favorite. In fact, every kind of meat stew was made in winter, always with plenty of animal fat. Geese and ducks were usually eaten during the winter, because of the fat they carried. Winter was the most likely time for people to have meat, and many animals were slaughtered and salted, often in the form of hams or fat sausages, in preparation for winter.
All of this animal fat was pastured, as factory foods did not exist at this time.
In old Russia, fat foods for winter were so prized that poems were written about them, praising the virtues of the various kinds of fat, including lamb fat, beef fat, butter, and the favorite, real pork lard.
Eating animal fat during winter was considered vital for health. Unfortunately, many people were too poor to afford enough fat and fatty meats, and were unable to get the benefits. But for those who could afford it, fatty meats and animal fat played a crucial role in winter survival.
The Benefits of Winter Fat
The benefits of good animal fat have been documented by the Weston A. Price Foundation, as shown in this excellent article The Skinny on Fats.
Pastured animal fats are particularly valuable in winter because they are rich in Vitamin D, especially the fatty organ meats, and butter. Pastured animal fats are wonderful fuel for the body, providing perhaps the best source of energy, with none of the negative effects of sugar or too many carbs. This helps the body to function better.
Recently we were hit with a spell of unusually cold weather, and I decided to up our intake of real animal fats. We ate fatty roasts and stews, used more real lard, butter, beef tallow, and other such fats, and enjoyed fatty ducks and organ meats. The results of this experiments is that my energy increased, and I felt strong and eager for the work of the day. The tiredness I might feel from the cold and gloom disappeared with a nice bowl of fatty stew, or hot broth made from real bones and meat scraps.
This is just my experience, but it helped me to understand why my European ancestors valued fat in the winter so much.