DEAR DR. BLONZ: What are your thoughts about using pork fat (like uncured bacon or pork belly) to prepare foods? I find the taste infinitely superior to butter for most cooking needs, and there is no evidence that it is harming my cholesterol levels. I normally store the stuff at room temperature, on the theory that that's how my grandma did it (just put it in a can and scoop it out as needed). How long is it safe to leave out? Is it likely to become carcinogenic at some point, or does it just get rancid if it's too old? -- E.D., Sacramento, California
DEAR E.D.: I would not classify lard as a "go to" cooking fat, but if you have an otherwise healthful diet and are in good health, the occasional use of lard should not pose a problem.
As to some of your specifics, it's unlikely that your lard will become carcinogenic per se, but some of the lipids may oxidize if it is kept at room temperature. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and especially cholesterol, are susceptible to oxidation, and the consumption of oxidized cholesterol and oxidized fats can contribute to health problems.
Many people don't realize that lard is approximately 47 percent monounsaturated and about 12 percent polyunsaturated fat. About 41 percent of lard is saturated fat, and much of that is stearic acid: a saturated fat that has been found to have a neutral effect on blood lipid levels. Finally, there are about 12 milligrams of cholesterol per tablespoon of lard.
If you are intent on using pork fat, I would recommend keeping it refrigerated in a sealed container with a minimum of airspace. Lard manufacturers often use synthetic antioxidants such as BHA, BHT or propyl gallate to help preserve fats.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: You have mentioned that weight-bearing exercise is beneficial for the bones. My mom has recovered from a stroke and is not yet able to walk; it is unclear whether she will ever be up and about as she once was. She does exercises daily, but not of the aerobic variety -- more the "sitting and doing arm or leg exercises" variety. She sometimes has light weights strapped to her ankles or wrists while exercising. Would this be considered "weight-bearing" exercise? -- S.T., Phoenix
DEAR S.T.: Strength training that involves the use of weights, even light ones, is indeed considered a weight-bearing exercise. Given your mom's condition, it may be her best option for now. Most of the other weight-bearing exercises involve movements such as walking or jogging, where the weight of the body is alternately applied and removed from the long bones of the legs. Swimming, which is also an excellent exercise, is not weight-bearing, because it lacks this element.
Have her use caution so as not to overdo it, and, of course, make sure you apprise your mother's health professional of the details of her exercise regimen. Consider consulting with a physical therapist, a service covered by many health insurance plans, as this would provide a program tailored to your mother's specific needs.
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