Sunday, 20 December 2009

Making the Most of Animals: Part 2 - Glorious Fat

In part 1 I talked about the importance of eating the meat from animals that have been well treated. Quite apart from any ethical consideration, the fact is it's better for you.

I also mentioned the cost benefits of including offal in your carnivorous repertoire - first, because bought separately it's very cheap, and second because if you bought the whole animal in the first place, you are getting more food for your money.

The same arguments apply to another part of the animal people routinely squander - the fat.

For example, when you buy a lamb chop, very often there is a fairly thick rind of fat on it. This probably contains more calories than the meat (as most of you know, fat has 9 cals/g whereas carbs and protein has 4) - but how healthy that fat is depends very much on how the animal was reared.
Quality Matters
As I wrote in part 1, it's not wise to compromise to eat the fat from industrially farmed animals: they are fed with food like corn and wheat, and kept in unnatural conditions, as a result of which their fat contains more omega 6 and less omega 3 than wild or free-range animals. Eating the fat from such meat is probably not very good for you, though ironically this is not for the reasons the sat-fat-heart brigade claim.

Some Photos of My Fatty Meals

Pork scratchings

Chicken skin

Lamb fat

Duck skin
They key point: fat from free range, organic, or pastured animals is actually good for you.
Eating the Fat Makes the Meat Cheap
Another irony lies in people's tendency to avoid buying organic, pastured or free-range meat because of the cost. Very often these same people can be seen scraping the fatty offcuts into the bin after a meal or carefully separating the skin from a duck or chicken leg.

The point is that if they bought high quality food, and therefore were able to eat all of the serving, they would need less to be satisfied because of the additional calories from the fat - and it would taste nicer too.

When Mrs M and I buy a small organic chicken, it makes up to four meals. There are all kinds of fatty parts to the animal, many of which become crispy if cooked properly. Personally, I am happy to guzzle the fatty parts whether crispy or not, so I can be satisfied by a much less meat than I would otherwise need.

A £10 organic bird therefore means £2.50 per meal. If we bought a crappy, industrially farmed bird for £5 we'd have no choice to but to avoid the fat, so the cost would be the same because we'd only get two meals out of it.

As an aside, I do appreciate some people may be getting their meals for £1.25 because they eat all of the chicken, in spite of the conditions it was raised in, and that for some this is the only way they can afford to live.
Conditioned Avoidance
We have been conditioned to cut the fat off our meat.

The diet-heart hypothesis - the idea that eating saturated fat leads to heart disease - is so thoroughly entrenched in the psyche of most people that there is an instinctive urge to avoid conspicuous animal fat.

I won't bore you with the science here, but regular readers of the blogs in my blog roll will know this is a notion that's being quietly and systematically demolished by authors, commentators and researchers, leaving an ever-dwindling group of establishment die-hards holding aloft a tattered flag.

Even Mrs M, now a fully paid up Paleo queen, cuts the fat off meat when it's not crispy or when there is what she perceives to be 'just too much of it.' As for my Mum and Dad, who themselves have been Paleo for some time, it took them quite a while to get used to the idea that fat is good.
The Power of Indoctrination
What gets me is that nobody wants to leave the crispy skin from a chicken breast. I don't know many people who'd pass up a pork scratching (albeit accompanied by ooh, I shouldn't) and the crispy fat from a lamb or beef steak is surely divine.

Yet the same people who seem unable to exercise the willpower necessary to stop eating sugar, cakes or chocolate, appear suddenly to have this iron resolve when it comes to animal fat. As I recall, I was just the same some years ago. I guess this is testament to the power of indoctrination. No one wants to die. You die of heart attacks. We are told fat gives you a heart attack. I don't remember anyone ever saying that about sugar, albeit that it may turn out to be true.
Paleo Subtleties
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there are differing opinions among advocates of Paleo/Primal eating about how much animal fat we should eat. Some say that wild animals are relatively lean and that our liking for fat was naturally regulated when we were evolving by its relative scarcity. Others say we should freely consume it.

I just wing it. For me, variety is the watchword. On some days I eat white fish or offal, which contain relatively little fat anyway - on these days I get most of my fat from olive or coconut oil. On days when I do eat fatty animals I eat the fat freely.

In part 3 - soups and bones. Yes I said bones - you can eat them. Really.

See Also:
Making the Most of Animals: Part 1 - Wonderful Offal
Making the Most of Animals: Part 3 - Beautiful Bones


Anonymous said...

I think you meant "more omega 6 and less omega 3"!

A great post - your point about how actually consuming the fat from pasture-raised meat in fact makes it less expensive is well taken. Since I've made a point of buying pastured meat, I haven't thrown a scap of fat out - it's often the best-tasting part of a cut of meat.

Unknown said...

"they are fed with food like corn and wheat, and kept in unnatural conditions, as a result of which their fat contains more omega 3 and less omega 6 than wild or free-range animals."

I think you meant to say the opposite.

Bryce said...

One of the most overweight men I work with routinely eats a veggie burger when the mess is serving burgers. He's not a vegetarian. He simply fears the fat involved in the ground beef. Granted, CAFO ground beef fat isn't particularly healthful, but I can't imagine it's worse than the soy-burger that is substituting for it, especially when he consumes plenty of ketchup soaked french fries, or Chips for the UK readers ;-), along with it.

When I bring leftovers to work, the stews or soups routinely have a solidified layer of white fat on top before I reheat them. People are quite literally appalled and nauseated when they find out that the layer is indeed saturated fat, and that my intentions are to consume every drop of it.

Nice one again, M.

Methuselah said...

Anon, Stephen - thanks for pointing that out: I have now switched it so it reads correctly.

Bryce - sounds a lot like the reactions I get. Yet when the soups are reheated, they smell and look much more acceptable. I don't think people really understand the nature of fat until, like us, they have started to consciously include it the diet.

vgdave said...

Another fantastic post. Well done!
I've noted that the fat in grass-fed beef varies in taste a bit between animals. Not sure if this is due to age, date of slaughter, or just variations in diet. Color varies too, especially when rendered.

Looking forward to your post on bones--hoping you'll have some thoughts on bone broth in addition to marrow eating.

Anonymous said...

Hi Methuselah,
I must say that I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts. Being a Certified PT and Paleo Nutritionist, I love to read about others spreading word.
Getting back to the land, and eating/training functionally is about as simple as it gets. Maybe that's why some have such a hard time 'getting' it. With more of us sharing, testing, and exploring...I truly believe it will become the norm, and not the exception.

@Bryce We call that beautiful white fat that settles to the top once homemade stock is refriderated SCHMALTZ...A-mazing and nourishing.

Be Well,

Methuselah said...

Thanks guys.

vgdave - bone broth and marrow eating are definately on the menu!

Grok said...

I cut the fat if it's from a grain fed animal. If it's burger, I'll drain it off and add coconut oil or something back in if needed... or not, an just enjoy it dry chewy/crispy :)

I'm suppose to be getting a bunch of good bones for free, but my source hasn't come through yet. I'll keep hassling. It seems to be working lately.

Anon2 said...

Oh glorious fat, indeed! I love eating the fat on lamb and veal, and rarely remove or reject any of it (even though I currently eat CAFO meat because it's all I can afford at the mo, but I try not to feel too bad about it).

But I've also developed an unexpected taste for all the connective tissue and gristle that comes with some cuts, when properly cooked. One of my new favourite things to eat is when I get a batch of veal bones to make broth with, and after hours of simmering all the surrounding cartilage and ligaments and whatnot are really soft and gelatinous. Veeery tasty! (may be an acquired taste, though) Not quite on the same level as bone marrow, but surprisingly good nevertheless.

Just wondering, am I alone in having developed a new liking for gristle (uncool as it sounds) or has anyone else experienced this?

Happy New Year everyone !

Methuselah said...

Hi Anon2 - happy new year to you too. I once slow cooked the connective tissue from chopping up and separating lamb organs to make a dish which included, for example, the windpipe, which I think is the same type of thing you are talking about. It was very tasty. See part 1 for some photos.

chris said...

Awesome! Fat is essential. We need tons of healthy fats for our survival. Today we have tons of people afraid of fat, which is a shame....

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