Posts Tagged ‘lard’

Make you Fink on Friday

This is about a subject that I have often espoused as ‘bullshit’.

8905112_origLiterally, the crap that we have been led to believe comes from manufacturers that want to sell you another product.

It’s the old butter vs margarine debate again; which is healthier for you?

Basically, you have been fed manufacturers crap for so long it’s taken as gospel.

Now it appears as though the truth is coming out.

Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong

Eggs and red meat have both been on the nutritional hit list – but after a major study last week dismissed a link between fats and heart disease, is it time for a complete rethink?

The evidence that appears to implicate red meat does not separate well-reared, unprocessed meat from its factory farmed, heavily processed equivalent.’ Photograph: Mike Kemp/Getty Images/Rubberball

Could eating too much margarine be bad for your critical faculties? The “experts” who so confidently advised us to replace saturated fats, such as butter, with polyunsaturated spreads, people who presumably practise what they preach, have suddenly come over all uncertain and seem to be struggling through a mental fog to reformulate their script.

Last week it fell to a floundering professor, Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation to explain why it still adheres to the nutrition establishment’s anti-saturated fat doctrine when evidence is stacking up to refute it. After examining 72 academic studies involving more than 600,000 participants, the study, funded by the foundation, found that saturated fat consumption was not associated with coronary disease risk. This assessment echoed a review in 2010 that concluded “there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease”.

Neither could the foundation’s research team find any evidence for the familiar assertion that trips off the tongue of margarine manufacturers and apostles of government health advice, that eating polyunsaturated fat offers heart protection. In fact, lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury spoke of the need for an urgent health check on the standard healthy eating script. “These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines,” he said.

Chowdhury went on to warn that replacing saturated fats with excess carbohydrates – such as white bread, white rice and potatoes – or with refined sugar and salts in processed foods, should be discouraged. Current healthy eating advice is to “base your meals on starchy foods”, so if you have been diligently following that dietetic gospel, then the professor’s advice is troubling.

Confused? Even borderline frustrated and beginning to run out of patience? So was the BBC presenter tasked with getting clarity from the British Heart Foundation. Yes, Pearson conceded, “there is not enough evidence to be firm about [healthy eating] guidelines”, but no, the findings “did not change the advice that eating too much fat is harmful for the heart”. Saturated fat reduction, he said, was just one factor we should consider as part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Can you hear a drip, drip in the background as officially endorsed diet advice goes into meltdown?

Of course, we have already had a bitter taste of how hopelessly misleading nutritional orthodoxy can be. It wasn’t so long ago that we were spoon-fed the unimpeachable “fact” that we should eat no more than two eggs a week because they contained heart-stopping cholesterol, but that gem of nutritional wisdom had to be quietly erased from history when research showing that cholesterol in eggs had almost no effect on blood cholesterol became too glaringly obvious to ignore.

The consequences of this egg restriction nostrum were wholly negative: egg producers went out of business and the population missed out on an affordable, natural, nutrient-packed food as it mounded up its breakfast bowl with industrially processed cereals sold in cardboard boxes. But this damage was certainly less grave than that caused by the guidance to abandon saturated fats such as butter, dripping and lard, and choose instead spreads and highly refined liquid oils.

Despite repeated challenges from health advocacy groups, it wasn’t until 2010, when US dietary guidelines were amended, that public health advisers on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledged that the chemical process for hardening polyunsaturated oils in margarines and spreads created artery-clogging trans-fats.

Manufacturers have now reformulated their spreads, hardening them by chemical methods which they assure us are more benign. But throughout the 20th century, as we were breezily encouraged to embrace supposedly heart-healthy spreads, the prescription was killing us. Those who dutifully swallowed the bitter pill, reluctantly replacing delicious butter with dreary marge, have yet to hear the nutrition establishment recanting. Government evangelists of duff diet advice aren’t keen on eating humble pie.

But what lesson can we draw from the cautionary tales of eggs and trans fats? We would surely be slow learners if we didn’t approach other well-established, oft-repeated, endlessly recycled nuggets of nutritional correctness with a rather jaundiced eye. Let’s start with calories. After all, we’ve been told that counting them is the foundation for dietetic rectitude, but it’s beginning to look like a monumental waste of time. Slowly but surely, nutrition researchers are shifting their focus to the concept of “satiety”, that is, how well certain foods satisfy our appetites. In this regard, protein and fat are emerging as the two most useful macronutrients. The penny has dropped that starving yourself on a calorie-restricted diet of crackers and crudités isn’t any answer to the obesity epidemic.

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Opinion:

Take the egg problem, speaking from personal experience. I eat between six and a dozen eggs per week… my cholesterol is just great, perhaps a little on the low side. I also eat the fat on meat, I use lard for cooking and I don’t have margarine in the house and I don’t buy products made with it. I don’t drink soda, but sparkling mineral water, often with fresh juices added.

So, more than two years ago, I bucked the system and stopped believing manufacturers’ claims.

My advice, stop being a sheep and following the herd, think for yourself.

Fatberg

A ‘fatberg’ in the sewers? What a waste

For much of history, the fat found in a giant ball clogging London sewers would have been put to a surprising array of uses

The fatberg – a 15-tonne lump of fat and other debris – coagulated inside a London sewer. Photograph: AP

A colossal “fatberg” of wet-wipes, sanitary products and food fat clogging a Kingston sewer threatened to send raw sewage spurting into London streets and homes in late July. Looking like some kind of B-movie monster, this 15-tonne abomination reminds us that waste is getting harder to keep underground.

But for most of history, a fatberg would have been a valuable commodity. Rather than shooting high-powered water-jets at the monster, the green solution would have been to make it into tallow candles – the chief source of light for most people before gas or electricity. Hence the job of “grease-dealer” – a person who made their living by collecting the grease of domestic kitchens, scraping it into a tub, and presently re-selling it. Once, you made energy from anything you could – including, sometimes, your pets: “My old dog Quon was killed … and baked for his grease, of which he yielded 11 pounds,” wrote a Dorset farmer in 1698.

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Make you Fink on Friday

Margarine v butter: are synthetic spreads toast?

Sales of margarine are in decline, due to a combination of reformulated recipes, price, health and taste. Do you defend marge, or is butter simply better?

Margarine: makes wonderfully crisp shortcrust pastry. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Butter v marg: it’s a fight that has gone on for decades. On one side, there’s butter – rich, creamy, defiantly full-fat and made for millennia by churning the milk or cream from cattle. On the other, there’s margarine: the arriviste spread invented in the 1860s. It might not taste delicious, and it doesn’t sink into your toast like butter, but for decades margarine has ridden a wave of success as the “healthy” alternative.

No longer. Sales of margarine have plummeted in the last year, according to Kantar, with “health” spreads dropping 7.4% in sales. Flora has been particularly badly hit, losing £24m in sales, partly due to reformulating its recipe.

Meanwhile, butter is back in vogue. Brits bought 8.7% more blocks of butter last year, and 6% more spreadable tubs. This is partly due to the “narrowing price gap between butter and margarine,” Tim Eales of IRI told The Grocer, but also to the home baking revival led by Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and co. We’re all sticking unsalted butter in our sponges these days.

A yen for natural, unprocessed produce could also be a factor. “Since all the food scandals of the last 10 years, people are thinking about where their food comes from – butter is perceived as ‘pure’,” says food writer Signe Johansen. But is marg really out for the count? Big brands are owned by powerful multinationals such as Unilever, with huge marketing budgets. Don’t rule spreads out just yet.

Margarine was invented in 1869 by a French food scientist, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès, who responded to a challenge by Napoleon III. Napoleon wanted to find a long-life alternative to butter to feed troops in the Franco-Prussian war. Mège-Mouriès mixed skimmed milk, water and beef fat to create a substance similar to butter in texture, if not in taste. He called it “oleomargarine” after margarites, the Greek word for pearls – a reference to its pearly sheen. In 1871 he sold the patent to Jurgens, a Dutch firm now part of Unilever.

Beef fat was soon replaced by cheaper hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated vegetable oils. “Margarine gained a foothold during the first world war,” says food writer and historian Bee Wilson. “George Orwell wrote of the ‘great war’ that what he remembered most was not all the deaths but all the margarine. But at this stage people recognised it was an inferior substitute for butter: an ersatz food, like drinking chicory instead of coffee.”

In the second world war, British margarine brands were legally required to add vitamins to their recipes. “The move in status to margarine as a health food, marketing itself as a superior alternative, happened after the war,” says Wilson. Added “healthy” extras – vitamins, omega-3s, unpronounceables that lower your cholesterol – are still a mainstay of the market.

But while margarine has spent decades fighting butter on the health front, what about taste? “Margarine has never been able to replicate the flavour of true butter,” says Johansen. This despite the fact many brands add milk and cream to their spreads. “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”? Really? I can.

Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to find a defendant of margarine among food writers and chefs. One of the few exceptions is Marguerite Patten, who a fan of baking with Stork. Indeed, Stork does make for wonderfully crisp shortcrust pastry.

Margarine has taken a bashing on the health front in recent years, too. Negative press about trans fats in the 00s saw many brands remove hydrogenated fats from their spreads and reformulate their recipes. Growing suspicion of processed foods has led many consumers to return to butter. As Johansen puts it: “If you want a healthy heart, eat more vegetables.”

And yet, and yet. I’m looking at a tub of Pure Dairy-Free Soya Spread. It contains 14g saturated fat per 100g, compared to butter’s 54%. For many consumers, such stats still outweigh taste when it comes to deciding what’s on their toast. And what about vegans, and those with lactose intolerance? Margarine can fulfil needs that butter can’t.

It will never win any taste awards, but there is still a place for margarine on the supermarket shelves – even if there isn’t one for it in most food lovers’ fridges.

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Opinion:

I have heard it said… or did I read it? That margarine is one molecule short of being plastic. Which just begs the question; would you melt your Tupperware to spread on your toast?

Whether that is true or not, I can’t remember the reference, the fact is that butter and margarine are from different planets.

I have both in the house. Principally, I use butter, but the marg comes in handy if I run out of soft butter. In a typical month I would use 7x250gm packs of butter, whereas a 250gm pot of marg lasts the whole month, and into the next.

Don’t even think about suggesting that I soften the butter in the microwave! I wouldn’t have one of those in the house; I have even thrown a new one out of a restaurant kitchen. Microwave ovens are pure evil!

“In the mid-1970s Russia banned microwaves. Now you may think that is pretty silly, until you look at the latest reports on how they f**k-up food beyond all recognition. More recent studies have shown that microwave ovens totally alter the structure of food, so much so, that it isn’t food anymore.

Yes, Russia made a good move.

Microwaves should be banned globally, but of course that’ll never happen. The microwave oven market is big. Corporations like this because there’s a lot of profit. Because the corporations run America, America will continue to have microwave ovens and obesity, yes, microwave ovens are a part of the obesity problem.” – From a Make you Fink on Friday post a year ago; feel free to take your microwave to the scrap-metal yard.

The evils of butter vs the benefits or margarine were touted by the margarine manufacturers who suppressed all evidence that didn’t fit their claims.

The same happened to natural dripping and lard vs vegetable cooking oils. The same happened to milk vs pateurised milk; I have drunk pure unpasteurised milk throughout much of my life and have never suffered the maladies as claimed.

No consideration was ever given to your health. Oh, they said so, because that’s what you wanted to hear. Nobody ever challenged it.

But people are beginning to see through this veil of secrecy, food scandals are more frequently being brought to the fore and people are stopping to think.

When are you going to stop and fink?

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