DEAR DR. BLONZ: Our family recipe for tamales, which we have made and enjoyed for generations, uses lard, along with corn, meat, almonds, raisins and sauce. Whenever I teach the recipe to Americans, they want to use other fats, but I have found that nothing works as well or tastes as good as the lard. My parents and grandparents have lived in good health to their 90s eating these foods, so I am confused about the concerns about lard. Are these fears justified? -- M.R.S., San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
DEAR M.R.S.: While there are valid concerns about consuming excess saturated fats, the guidance is to limit them, not eliminate them entirely.
Fats and oils are blends of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. With lard, like other food fats, 100% of the calories come from fat. Approximately 39% of the lard’s fats are saturated, 45% are monounsaturated and 11% are polyunsaturated. Compare this with olive oil, where 14% are saturated, 72% are monounsaturated and 9% are polyunsaturated.
Much of the saturated fat in lard comes from stearic acid, which has a somewhat neutral effect on blood lipids. Also, because lard is of animal (pork) origin, it will contain cholesterol: One-fourth of a cup of it contains 49 milligrams of dietary cholesterol.
So what is our bottom line? Lard is not a food fat to be used with abandon -- no fat is. As with any dietary fat, and perhaps especially with one high in saturates, the dangers come not so much from the fat as from the context of the entire diet. Even fats that might be considered “healthful” can compound problems if they are part of an unbalanced, highly processed, fast-food-type diet bereft of vegetables and fruits. It is the whole foods of plant origin that give the body the nutrients and phytochemicals it needs to properly handle dietary fats.
Eat well and stay active, and fat becomes just another element in the foods we make and enjoy. Fat is an integral element of many a traditional dish, such as tamales. Lard can be used, and the foods can and should be treasured for their rich flavors and textures. The excellent health and longevity experienced by your family eating traditional Latin American cuisines speak well to this point.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I can’t tell much difference in the tastes of the wide variety of nondairy milks. Do any of them hold nutritional advantages over the others, or are they all more or less the same? -- S.H., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR S.H.: There’s quite a variety out there: The nondairy milk category now includes products based on soy, almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, coconut, hemp, peas (usually labeled as “plant-based milk”), rice, oats, flax and even bananas.
There can be significant differences in taste, texture, protein, fat and sugar content. Many are marketed as substitutes for cow’s milk, and they are purposefully fortified with calcium and other nutrients typically found in dairy.
The point here is that you cannot generalize the nutritional value for such a diverse group. It is best to view the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient lists for the products you are considering -- alongside dairy milk or other options -- to see how things compare.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.