February 23, 2016

Blast from the Past: Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Fat Tuesday!

Hey Everyone!

I’m falling a little behind in my blogging, but rather than keep you waiting for something new from the dark recesses of my mind, I thought it was time to resurrect a post from the past. An oldie but a goodie, as they say. This was originally posted November 6, 2012, making it one of my earliest posts, back when really, truly, no one was reading my blog. (All I've done is add some links to posts I've done since then.) I joke about having no readers now, but, based on page views these days compared to back in 2012, things have come a long way since those early days. I still have a [relatively] small audience, but I know you’re out there, and I am grateful for you! I tell people I have a small but loyal following. And, in my humble opinion, most of you are of above average intelligence. [Maybe you’re from Lake Wobegon? Any American who gets that reference, I am even more grateful for you, haha!] Frankly, I’d rather have a smaller audience of…how shall I say…”choice individuals,” versus catering to the great unwashed masses. ;D  I try to remind myself of that and be grateful for the few but meaningful comments my posts garner, as opposed to the flame wars, irrationally angry comments, and utter stupidity that abound on sites with a bigger reach. We’re a small, tight-knit group here, and I kinda like it that way.

I’ll try not to do these repeat posts very often. Right now, though, I’ve got nothing in the hopper, so I need to get crackin’ on some new posts. I think I’ve got a couple more to tack on to the insulin series, and yes, dear ones, I will be getting back to the cancer series. (Eventually.) I also have some epic-ish rants coming.

Okay, enough blathering. On with the show!

Mardi Gras! It means different things depending on where you live and what you believe. It could be a period of uninhibited eating, drinking, and general debauchery preceding Lent. Could be a time to make funny masks, eat traditional King cakes, and do…um…certain things to get lots of beaded necklaces.

On this blog, however, I’m gonna stick with the English translation: Fat Tuesday! What’s not to love about those two things? Fat is delicious and good for you (no, really, it is!), and Tuesday…well, it ain’t Friday, but it’s better than Monday! (And everyone knows Mondays suck. Disagree? Obviously you haven’t seen Office SpaceAnd if that’s the case I have two questions for you:  what are you waiting for, and how big is the rock you’ve been living under?)   

So, Fat Tuesday. What’s that about? Where am I going with this?

EPA? DHA? I have no clue;
just pass the olive oil!
Well, having gone through a graduate program in nutrition, I can tell you that there is a lot of confusion out there about fat. Seriously. A lot. Like, blow-my-mind, scare-the-crap-out-of-me levels of confusion and misinformation. And that’s among the people who should know better! If a fair number of nutritionists, dietitians, doctors, and nurses don’t know the facts about fat, how can the average consumer, dieter, or just plain eater stand a chance? (Note:  this includes all of us. Trying to lose weight? Then this means you. Ever buy food? Also means you. Ever eat food? Still you!)

Fat is one of my favorite things to see on my plate. Any good chef will tell you fat = flavor. (To watch a master who embraces and espouses this principle wholeheartedly, may I recommend Michael Symon? I’m also a huge fan of Emeril Lagasse’s motto, “pork fat rules,” but let’s face it…Mr. Symon’s nicer to look at.) Think about it:  which tastes better—boneless, skinless, grilled chicken breasts, or a whole chicken, roasted on the bone and basting in its own juices? Actually, kudos if you even can answer that question. Far too many people of my generation and younger have grown so terrified of animal fat that they’ve never experienced the crunch of crispy skin on a moist, tender chicken leg. Their only knowledge of chicken is the boneless, skinless stuff grilled to kingdom come on a George Foreman grill. Tragic.

I am making it my mission to reeducate the world about this critical macronutrient. It might be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever considered tackling. After all, we’re talking about turning the tide on over 60 years of government and health authorities and experts—and I use those terms loosely—spearheading a smear campaign against a substance that is a fuel, a source of vitamins, a boost to the immune system, and an absolutely critical component of some hormones and every cell in our bodies. Every cell. (Don’t believe me? I have a couple of biochem and physiology textbooks I can point you toward.) Some of us have spent our entire lives under the shadow of how bad fat is for us. Especially…cue the scary musicsaturated fatFrom animals. (Aaaaahh!!!)

Saturated fat? Better make sure your life insurance is paid up!

We’ve trimmed all visible fat from our steaks. We’ve dutifully choked down egg white omelets and thrown all the yolks away like the hazardous waste we’ve been told they are. We’ve switched from butter to margarine. We’ve switched from pork to turkey bacon (or worse, soy imitations…now you can cue the really scary music), we use skim milk in our coffee (well, not me; I use heavy cream, thankyouverymuch), and we dab the oil off our pizza in hopes of removing some of the fat before cramming a slice into our mouths.

What a shame.

Nutrition advice from the last six decades:
Go directly to jail. Do not pass GO;
do not collect $200.
So few younger Americans know the gustatory and gastronomic pleasures of eating potatoes fried in duck fat, the incomparable flakiness of pie crust made with lard, or a beef stew where the meat was first seared in tallow. These fats, which were consumed by healthy, robust people for thousands of years before our modern epidemics of heart disease and obesity, have been replaced by things like soybean oil and hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Somewhere along the way, we turned our backs on natural, easily obtained fats and oils and embraced oils from sources that require astounding (and not in a good way) amounts of processing in order to extract, bleach, and deodorize them.

Since my blog posts are usually already way too long (yes, I’m aware of the problem, thank you), I won’t get into the political and economic machinations behind this massive shift. If you’re interested in the history of that epic transition, this article will give you more insight than I could possibly convey.

What I will get into is the biochemistry of this stuff. Because we’ve got to stick to the facts, folks. We’ve got to clear away the cobwebs and weed through the politically correct and ostensibly logical recommendations we’re used to hearing about fats. What sounds good on paper doesn’t always jive with the facts, and when it comes to our health, we need facts, not sound bites. I’m happy that “they” have finally stopped demonizing all fats and now recognize that not only are some fats not bad for us, but they actually seem to be good for us. Salmon, avocado, almonds, walnuts…omega-3s and monounsaturates – woohoo!

Yes, these are "good fats," but they're not the only ones!

Not so fast, buster. That’s a nice reversal of previous recommendations to pretty much never eat fat ever, but the “experts” are still asleep at the wheel. While they’ve vindicated a couple of politically correct sources of fat (nuts, fish, and olives), they’ve missed the boat on the enormousepic "mea culpa" they owe the American public regarding saturated fat.

It’s time to set the record straight.   

Second only to cholesterol, fat—saturated fat, in particular—is the most misunderstood, maligned, and falsely accused substance in all of health science. In future posts (always on a Tuesday – this series is, after all, the Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday series), I’ll tackle some of the chemistry of fats. Don’t worry  – I’ll give you just enough science to make you dangerous but not enough to make you head for the hills. Pity the USDA or AND (formerly ADA) fool who crosses your path in a dark alley while you’ve got bacon on your breath.  

Okay, enough backstory. Let’s get to it, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Good thing there’s a new Tuesday every week, eh?

Hang on tight. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.   

Let’s keep it simple in this first post. We’ll start with the basics. If you can understand the chart below, I guarantee you’ll know more about fats and oils than most doctors and a lot of nutritionists and dietitians who have either long since forgotten this or never even learned it in the first place. (I’m not trying to badmouth doctors, but think about it: if they specialized in nutrition, they’d be called nutritionists. But they’re called medical doctors. They specialize in medicine. I'll talk food and let them talk drugs.)

Let’s talk terminology before we jump in. The word fat generally refers to sources that are solid at room temperature:  butter, tallow, lard, etc. Oil is used for sources that are liquid at room temp:  corn, soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower oils, etc. I will distinguish between the two when necessary, but mostly I’ll use the term “fat” to mean fats and oils.

There is no source of fat, either plant or animal, that is all saturated or all unsaturated. Every fat and oil is a combination of different types of fatty acids. Even lard, which you probably think of as the worst thing you could possibly eat, is actually more unsaturated than saturated. I know, I know. Just the word “lard” makes you cringe. You can practically feel your arteries clogging, right? Keep reading.

This chart shows you the percentages of the different kinds of fatty acids that make up various fats and oils. Take a look at lard, the scariest of the scariest: it has more monounsaturated fat than saturated. And you know what? Monounsaturated fat is the reason experts say olive oil is so good for us. Bacon fat is higher in monounsaturated than saturated, too. (Emeril’s been right all along: pork fat does rule!)

Salivating? Yeah, me too. (Think ham steak, not Wilbur.)

And what about olive oil, that holiest of holies? It’s the only source of fat everyone seems to agree on—low-carbers, Paleo adherents, vegetarians, vegans (not to mention doctors, nutritionists, and dietitians)—and it’s almost 14% saturated! Put down the homemade vinaigrette; you’re gonna give yourself a heart attack!!

Fat or Oil              
Almond Oil
Avocado Oil
Beef Tallow
Bacon fat
Butter & ghee
Canola Oil
Chicken fat (schmaltz)
Coconut Oil
Corn Oil
Cottonseed Oil
Duck fat
Flaxseed Oil
Grapeseed Oil
Hazelnut Oil
Lard (pork fat)
Olive Oil
Palm Oil
Peanut Oil
Pumpkin seed Oil 
Safflower Oil
Sesame Oil
Soybean Oil
Sunflower Oil
Walnut Oil
          All data from: USDA - http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/Know Your Fats, by Mary Enig, PhD (Bethesda Press, 2008); and http://nutritiondata.self.com/ 
             Totals are slightly off due to rounding, but you can confirm them via the links provided.

This stuff can be overwhelming so I’ll stop here for now. Until next time, just remember that saturated fat is not the demon we’ve been told it is, so no, you’re not going to drop dead from your homemade olive oil mayonnaise. (Or from a nice fatty prime rib, for that matter.) I’ll explain why soon, when I get into the differences between saturated,  mono-, and polyunsaturated fats, and why some are better for cooking while others are best used cold. (Sneak peek: cotton is for wearing, not for eating.)

Why no mention of omega-3s and 6s? Stay tuned. I’ll get there, too. There’s a ton to talk about and plenty of Tuesdays to go 'round. Have a specific question about fats you'd like me to answer? Feel free to leave a comment or email me.

The anointed one. (If you listen carefully
you can hear the angels singing.)

No singing here. The angels are too busy eating.

Remember: Amy Berger, M.S.,CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition. Links in this post and all others may direct you to amazon.com, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.


  1. Said it before and I'll say it again... We love you, too, Amy! :)

    You and your long posts!!

    This is a great blast-from-the-past post and a good reminder of some basics.


  2. I actually read your posts for information AND pleasure. The longer the better!