Flummoxed About Fat

Last week an earthquake registered off the coast of Vancouver Island. Media reports referenced the location’s proximity to a point where the Juan de Fuca plate attempts to slide under the North American plate. None of the news articles felt the need to explain plate tectonics – now considered to be a well-known, accepted geophysical fact. Yet in my lifetime this was not always so. Elements of the theory were proposed in the early 1900s, but even in the 1960s ideas such as continental drift were considered by some to be unconventional and unaccepted.

“Truths” linked to “science” can evolve and change, and “truths” about health and food are no exception. Who could blame us for feeling flummoxed, with questions that have too many conflicting answers? Is Vitamin D good? Should we restrict cholesterol? Should we eat many small meals a day? Is red wine and dark chocolate good for us? Nina Teicholz’s recent publication called The Big Fat Surprise outlines and adds to growing research that fats are good for us after all (including some saturated fats). [Warning: vegetarian friends may consider some of what follows, coarse language.]

Despite the mantra all researchers should live by – “correlation does not equal causation” – Teicholz outlines how the origins of some claims about health and food can be traced back to faulty observations and assumptions. Easter and Lent, it seems can, in part, be blamed for a decades old demonization of fat. “In the early 1950s… (a) scientist believed he found, in part by studying a group of men on Crete… that their good health and low rates of heart disease were due to a diet low in animal fats…Pouring over some of Keys’ original studies, Teicholz realized his work was partly based on men who had been observing Lent - a time when Cretans dramatically reduced their consumption of meat and animal fats.” (Source)

This blog post is not intended to change any reader’s attitude toward fat. For me, the new “truth” about fat makes me feel better about my full fat choices (and childhood.)

 Nagypapa | szalonna sütés | Queenston Heights

Nagypapa | szalonna sütés | Queenston Heights

I have already blogged about my childhood obsession with butter. Bacon was another fat linked to fond memories. My grandfather’s fridge always had a huge hunk of bacon, sometimes called slab bacon (cured and smoked). He would cut little pieces for me (what the French would call lardons) and place them on slivers of rye bread, and called them kis katona (little soldiers). A bacon roast (szalonna sütés) involved putting slab bacon on a stick, and cooking it over a fire. Every few minutes the fat from the bacon was dripped over slices of rye bread that was smothered with a mixture of tomatoes and onions. Incredible! 

I did not have a “meat and potatoes” upbringing. Many meals were meatless – Hungarian kitchens produced a lot of creamed vegetables and pasta dishes. Almost anything could be mixed with cooked pasta. Túrós tészta / csusza involved mixing pasta with ricotta and a bit of sour cream, sprinkling with bacon lardons, and drizzling with bacon grease. I preferred this pasta / ricotta combo with sugar (oh dear, another evil) instead of bacon grease. Considering that celebrity chefs like Lidia and Jamie drizzle olive oil over so many things, funny that the idea of a “bacon grease drizzle” still does not appeal. I am not convinced too many readers will want to make this, but here is a link to website with a version of the recipe

  Túrós tészta |  Source

 Túrós tészta | Source

Government websites still list saturated fats as “bad”. This doesn’t seem to bother those adopting the latest café craze – butter coffee – especially popular in wellness oriented coffee shops. Some of my recent recipe testing assignments are intended for a cookbook promoting the Paleo lifestyle, and they all use coconut oil - listed on both Canadian and American websites as bad saturated fats to be avoided.

Teicholz researched her book for almost ten years, but “isn't optimistic that change will come easily. The clean eating food movements, led by the Michael Pollans and Mark Bittmans, are hugely influential.” Mind you, a Pollan saying is “Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.” Unwittingly, he thus gives me permission to continue eating full fat products. I won't apologize for the fact that some of my recipes begin with a tablespoon of lard, or duck fat. And I'll consider bacon eating moments to be a tribute to my grandparents!

P.S. This past week seemed to be “fat week”. With breakfast, I read about Lee’s Ghee, and encountered Lee later the same day at the One of a Kind Show. I bought some of her Ghee with Dates. Poor thing was subjected to a Twitter lambasting for appropriating a food not linked to her culture. The so-called #gheegate finally calmed down with people supporting her right to make and sell this. She says her products are great for cooking / baking (she offers recipes) and with coffee, and on popcorn!

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[Bacon image source]