Welcome back fat! The often-maligned ingredient appears to be returning to the good graces of consumers and food professionals alike. Could the days of buttering bread, sautéing vegetables or meats in oil, and tossing salads with creamy dressings become the stuff of reality and not teenage dreams? Not so fast. All consumers aren’t convinced as 39% are trying to eliminate or avoid fats and 44% are targeting saturated fats as their diet destroyer.1 Like most sequels or reinventions, the pendulum is most likely not going to swing to full fat all the time but the back to basics mentality among other things might be making it a real possibility.
The Skinny on Fat
What are the factors contributing to fat’s resurgence? A few to consider:
- Clean label – While they’re not necessarily pretty to look at, fats are clean label. Oil, butter, lard and more are basic ingredients and on a label, they are simple and interestingly enough clean. Consumers know what they’re getting when they see a fat on the label and if they see that it’s a monounsaturated one, even better. Saturated fats are also not as verboten as originally thought with some studies showing little effect on heart disease, diabetes or obesity unlike carbohydrates. Butter was recently found to reduce heart disease by 4% in patients who ate it daily – possible good news for consumers who like to indulge every now and then.2
- Buying local – Consumers love shopping local and the trend is only growing. Green markets, farmers’ markets, and food co-ops make it easier than ever for consumers to incorporate local dairy goods into their shopping. It’s interesting that whole milk sales are up nationally 4.5% while fat free milk sales have dropped almost 12.5%. In farmland regions, like Des Moines, Iowa, whole milk sales are up 9.6% speaking to the consumers’ desires to get back to the good stuff and reinforces their belief that fresh is best.3
- Comfort Food – Macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pies, custards and puddings all rely on fat for their rich, creamy, texture and the comfort food trend has made fat downright friendly. Whether it’s the umami from cheese in the recipes or the thought of a cozy supper shared with family and friends, comfort foods are a gateway to fat.
- Satiation – Fat as an ingredient is satisfying and leaves consumes fuller longer which also can, surprisingly enough, contribute to weight loss in some theories. Substituting fat for processed carbs lowers insulin levels allowing the body to access fat for fuel. This is the basis for the newest diet, The Always Hungry Solution, by Dr. David Ludwig, MD., PhD. In the same vein, noted author and Cleveland Clinic Medical Director of Functional Health, Dr. Mark Hyman has based his Eat Fat, Get Fit challenge on incorporating healthy fats into the daily diets to “feel better, cut cravings, and live with more energy.”4
- Mediterranean Diet – The tenets of the Mediterranean diet focus on good, healthy fats like avocado, nuts and olive oil along with plant based foods and whole grains. The popularity of this diet has recast fat to bff status and made whole grain toast slathered with avocado a breakfast menu staple.
Unsual fats you might see (or remember)
- Schmalz – A cornerstone in Jewish cuisine, especially matzo ball soup broth, schmalz (or schmaltz) is chicken fat that has been boiled and rendered until it is clear, rich and when it firms, delicious spread on bread.
- Lard – It made pie crust flakey and the best fried chicken, but somewhere around the time of the birth of hydrogenated vegetable oil became “bad.” Lard, for many, is what consumers should have never stopped using and lard they may return to once the coconut oil is out of their system. Yes, it’s boiled-down pig fat but back in the day, consumers knew the pigs it came from and some nutritionists think that obesity and heart disease was a lot lower.5
- Porcupine fat – Andrew Zimmern, famed Travel Channel explorer, recently revealed his affection for porcupine fat. He first tasted it with the Bushmen of the Kalahari in Botswana and swears it is the food he “thinks about the most.” 6 Similar to pork belly, porcupine fat is removed almost in a sheet and cooked over coals until charred black and moist inside.
A Tasty Comeback
No matter the source, fat is coming back. Its ability to contribute to a clean label, satisfy a consumer’s hunger and recurring star status make fat a welcome part of a daily diet.
- Time Magazine: The Case for Eating Butter Just Got Better. Sifferlin,Alexandra, June 29, 2016