The type of fats used for cooking can literally make or break your health. This is regardless of other kitchen practices that may be right on target such as sourcing local and organic produce, consumption of antibiotic/steroid free grassfed meat and use of freshly ground flour to prepare traditionally made baked goods.
Factory fats such as hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils (transfats) are obviously unhealthy. Less obviously damaging are the heavily marketed liquid edible oils. These include soy, rice bran, corn, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower, canola, pumpkin seed oil and others as they are modern fats only recently introduced to the human diet. Consumption of these industrialized fats can cause cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, fertility problems, learning disabilities, growth problems and osteoporosis (1). They are inflammation in a bottle! They must be vigilantly avoided to achieve maximum health and vitality.
Nutrient rich traditional fats best used for cooking include the following:
- Lard from pigs outside in the sunlight (this recipe plus video shows you how to render lard at home)
- Tallow and suet from beef and lamb
- Chicken and goose fat (schmaltz), and duck fat
- Coconut, palm kernel, red palm oil and palm oil
These traditional fats are primarily composed of saturated and monounsaturated fats. These fats maintain their integrity when heated, meaning they do not become denatured forming free radicals during the cooking process. This is true as long as the heat remains below the smokepoint. These fats have nourished healthy cultures for millennia.
Wondering why olive oil is not on this list? This article outlines the reasons I choose not to cook with olive oil although it is great for salad dressing and is definitely a healthy traditional fat.
Not All Traditional Fats Are Created Equal
What many folks do not realize is that all fats are actually a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated vegetable oils are the rancid ones full of free radicals that are used in processed foods. They are the bad fats that when consumed to excess as is the case in the Western diet, inflammation and degenerative disease is the result. Vegetable oils also contribute to a tendency to gain weight.
A common characteristic of nearly all traditional fats is that they are all very low in polyunsaturated fats. The one exception is chicken fat which is about 21% polyunsaturated (2).
This compares with a polyunsaturated fat content of the following nourishing fats (3).:
- 4% for butter and ghee
- 4% for beef tallow
- 8% for mutton tallow
- 11% for goose fat
- 12% for duck fat
- 3% for coconut oil
- 9% for palm oil
- 2.3% for palm kernel oil
Caution about using chicken fat (schmaltz)
If you are new to Traditional Diet and your pantry is still fairly loaded up with processed foods in the form of chips, crackers, cookies, etc – even if organic – it is best to use another traditional fat for cooking than chicken fat.
This is because eating even a moderate amount of processed foods will likely result in an excessive intake of polyunsaturates. Cooking with chicken fat will exacerbate the problem as it is the highest in polyunsaturates of all the traditional fats with the exception of sesame oil. A much better choice would be to cook with one or more of the traditional fats listed above that are very low in polyunsaturates.
On the other hand, if you have eliminated most processed foods from your diet and are eating nearly all whole, home prepared snacks and meals at home, then cooking with chicken fat poses no problem whatsoever. The reason? There aren’t an excessive amount of polyunsaturated fats in your diet already.
I hope this post has not put anyone off chicken fat! That was certainly not the intention. This wonderful traditional fat is fabulous to include in the diet. However, the caveat is the rather high polyunsaturated content that is not common knowledge for many people.
I hope this post has instead motivated you to further reduce you family’s use of any remaining processed foods. This way, the budget friendly convenience of chicken fat that you can simply peel off the top of a jar of chilled homemade chicken stock can be fully implemented in your kitchen without the risk of it harming your health.
Rule of Thumb for Using Chicken Fat
A good rule of thumb is to open your pantry and take a look. If you see a lot of boxes from the store, you should be doing your cooking with a traditional fat. These fats include butter, ghee, coconut oil, tallow, lard and suet. Palm, goose and duck fat, while a bit higher in polyunsaturates, would also be fine for cooking occasionally even if some processed foods still remain in your family’s diet.
Save the chicken fat for when you are more fully transitioned to Traditional Diet. This approach ensures no overconsumption of polyunsaturates which would keep the brakes on as you continue your journey to optimal health.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sources and More Information
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.