Why Animal Fat is Good for You

Fat Cubes

I love fat. Rich, unctuous marrow scooped from the bone. Thick, creamy slices of French butter on fresh baguette. I sauté my potatoes in duck fat, rely on snow-white leaf lard for my flaky pie crusts, and adore roast beef sandwiches drenched in pan drippings.

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the Fat Lady. I worship animal fat. And before you say anything, no, my faith hasn’t made me fat. I can’t tell you my exact weight, as the only scales I own are in my kitchen, but middle-age spread has yet to appear, and I’m actually still wearing the clothes I wore ten years ago. (Aspiring authors, take note: writing cookbooks doesn’t make you rich–and doesn’t have to make you fat.) And I don’t have any problems with my cholesterol, either.

Yet when I start eulogizing fat, the reaction is unfailingly one of horror and disbelief. Most of you fear the marbling in your steak, the crisp fatty tail on a lamb chop, the crunch of a proper pork crackling. The myth that eating fat makes us fat is deeply rooted in Americans. You’re convinced that the fat will go straight from your lips to your hips and, only marginally worse, that it will kill you.

I’m here to tell you this fear is unfounded—not to mention unspeakably sad. As a chef and journalist, I know the incontrovertible importance of fat, how it’s essential not just for flavor and pleasure but, yes, your health. We’ve understood this for quite some time. Animals are fattened on a diet of grain. Humans, too, get fat on a diet of starch and sugar. Brillat-Savarin, Banting, Atkins, Scarsdale, and numerous other brilliant minds all have demonstrated that it’s carbohydrates—specifically, too many carbohydrates—that make us fat. Wanting to share this seemingly revelatory news with others, I wrote a cookbook pronouncing the glories and benefits of animal fat. Its title, not surprisingly, is Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. I thought it would be easy to convince the whole world. I mean, really, how difficult could it be to tell people they can indulge in sweet butter pastry filled with homemade salted caramel and expect to live to be 100?

Pretty hard, apparently. Social indoctrination runs deep. Which is why I figured television, a medium that reaches millions, would be an ideal way to spread the word. After all, if it can persuade people to pay top dollar for bottles of purified New York City water, surely I could convince them to eat pig. So in a three-minute spot, I extolled the virtues of fat, explaining its winning combination of taste, health, and practicality. I actually had the crew drooling at my description of flaky leaf lard pastry. As I left, the producer whispered in my ear, “If you’d been even a pound overweight, we wouldn’t have had you on.” Anger tinged with evangelism overtook me. “Fat doesn’t make you fat!” I shouted. “It’s delicious, satisfying, and filling. It’s carbohydrates, sugar, and overeating that pack on the pounds! Eat fat and lose weight!” I fulminated as I left the studio.

It’s hard being a fat evangelist. There’s so much work to be done.

One morning not long ago, the local radio show host was lambasting lard. I counterattacked with a barrage of evangelizing emails. The host eventually buckled and invited me on his show. As a token of my appreciation, I pressed a jar of creamy lard into his palm during the broadcast. “That’s saturated fat,” he gasped, turning paler than the contents of the jar. I patiently explained to him and his listeners that all fats are saturated and unsaturated, even his beloved vegetable oils. Unlike highly polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which break down and turn rancid when heated, animal fats are safe when exposed to high temperatures. “Cook in animal fat!” I proclaimed at the top of my lungs as he cut to commercial.

As with many evangelists, I’ve come to learn that the masses are often converted by a subtler, more surreptitious approach. So I’ve given countless sermons on fat…cunningly disguised as cooking demonstrations. I start with the taste, tempting my nervously squirming audience with sizzling, fatty slices of pork belly or chunks of potatoes cooked in duck fat that are surreally crisp outside, ethereally airy within. Usually, even the most fat-phobic surrender with their first mouthful of creamy deliciousness. This is when they realize the truth. Fat is flavor. I tell them to repeat this mantra if their fear of fat ever returns.

Yet the mere mention of animal fat tends to make some people go a little crazy. Once, a woman in my audience actually fainted. I thought she was simply swooning in ecstasy at the sight of the duck fat gurgling happily in my pan. Alas, no. The paramedics carried her away before I had a chance to tell her that just a year ago the Harvard School of Public Health and the Research Unit at the Oakland Children’s Hospital analyzed studies of animal fat and diet spanning 25 years and eight countries. They concluded that saturated fat is not associated with an increased risk of heart or vascular disease. Hallelujah!

Even after hearing all the evidence, some aren’t swayed. I recall one young man who confessed that he’d dearly loved his grandmother’s cooking—her crisp roasted chicken, her creamy mashed potatoes, her crumbly cookies—until he saw the amount of butter she used. That’s when he’d accused his granny of trying to kill him.

“But the taste?” I questioned.

“Sublime,” he sighed. Then he let what he thought were his senses get the better of him. “But all that butter is so bad for me.”

“No,” I retorted. “It’s good for you!” I explained in rather grandiose and scientific detail how butter, like all fat from ruminants allowed to graze on herbs and grass as nature intended, is brimming with properties that fight disease and actually prevent weight gain and depression. The sinner went straight to his granny’s for dinner that night.

Yet even with science, taste, and superior pastry to back me up, the disbelievers are many. So I’ve taken to a grassroots approach, converting skeptics at every opportunity. I lecture anyone fortunate enough to sit next to me in waiting rooms and airplanes. I snatch low-fat magazines from the hands of fellow subway commuters. I slip fatty-fat fat recipes to complete strangers. I’ve even stared down a room full of angry, fat-phobic dieticians. And when I see unsuspecting shoppers with low-fat items in their baskets at the supermarket, I redeem them by exorcising that evil, fat-fearing spirit that lurks within. It usually goes something like this:

“Don’t you know that fat is essential for your brain and bones?” I ask, incredulous.

They look at me as if I’m crazy. I persist.

“Many of the vitamins our bodies need are absorbed only with fat. Go back and get some full-fat milk and yogurt.” I say with authority. “It tastes better, too.”

This usually works.

One convert at a time is my motto. Although I’ve turned many into believers, I still have my work cut out for me. I won’t stop until the whole world loves and appreciates animal fat. Well, maybe not vegetarians. It’s not that I dislike them. I just think they’re misguided. Maybe I can’t help everyone.

Are you a fat-phobe or fat fanatic? Tell us your thoughts below.




  1. I fully applaud your actions – I love animal fat too.

    However I don’t think the mass media and government health ministries are going to embrace the idea for the simple reason that a large part of the Food & Beverage sector in most of the developed world would collapse if what you write is true. The industry wants us to continue eating this so-called “low fat, healthy food” as their profits are largely driven by that. If we go back to basics a century ago, many companies will go belly up.

  2. I love the way you write, Jennifer. Chanced upon this write up of yours when I was scribing addendum to my web/blog regarding fats. I am particularly irked by people who feel like instantly dying at the sight of fats. Signing up for more of your posts. Great. More power.

  3. Oh so close to my heart!!! I thought it was just me preaching the message of fat to all who will/or not listen to my ‘ravings’ A family member convinced I would kill myself with all the terrible fat I consume put the heavy word on me to have my cholesterol checked. Thankfully my Dr goes along with the saturated fat argument too. He laughed and said ‘lets do it!’ Meanwhile telling me that a cholesterol under 5 is abnormal, and that he likes his patients to have a reading between -( I hope you’r sitting down) 7 and 13!! A high cholesterol is way up around 30!!! I nearly fell off my chair. Mine came in at 7.2. Family member panics if hers is a above 5 so I crowed that I don’t have to do anything to lower it and so glad i have got off the ‘low cholesterol wagon and never have to worry about it again. From another ‘fat lady’

  4. I’m liking what I am reading! I love fat and have always struggled with my weight! To find out now it wasn’t the fat but carbs and sugar is a relief…I can still eat fat! I am currently reading David Gillespie’s books Big Fat Lies and Sweet Poison. They are factual and very sciency but practial on how to cull fructose and vegetable oil from your diet. I’m all for fat and am now clearing my life of these horrid chemical vegetable/seed oils!! No thank you…bring on the animal fat!!

  5. Yes, low-fat high sugar diets are damaging, because people don’t know when to stop eating.

    For a complete theory of weight management, you probably need to include protein leverage, where people who have a choice seem to stop eating when they get enough protein.

  6. Hi Tara, Being based in Toronto, Canada, I am not up to date with suppliers in LA. However, you might want to contact Jonny at http://www.foragedfood.com; he has Mangalitsa pigs that yield wonderful leaf lard that you could render yourself. As for duck fat, I am sure there are suppliers out there. I am glad you are a convert to good quality animal fat and hope you spread the word.

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Happy to see you are a great promoter of animal fat. We have a farm in the Niagara Region, raising the superb Hungarian Mangalitsa pig, Must have about 40 lb of leaf lard, white as snow, silky, buttery wonderful lard. Should try it out sometime.

  7. i. love. you. let’s hear it for animal fats! you’re so right…at the very mention of animal fat, people look at you like you’ve just sprouted another head. unfortunately, i only discovered the benefits of animal fats a couple of years ago. though since i’m only 25, i suppose i’m fortunate i discovered it now, rather than later. when i was younger, i often felt weak and dizzy, and since i discovered animal fats (and their meat, since we ate very little meat as a family) i have felt sooo much better! and i’m NEVER going back!

    alas, i am ashamed to say that i have yet to stock my fridge with animal fats (aside from butter; i must always have at least a few pounds of butter on hand). i live in los angeles and i’m not sure how to find a good source of leaf lard, duck fat, etc. any help would be greatly appreciated. :)

    PS: posting this page on facebook…hopefully it’ll convince some of my friends of the benefits of fat!

  8. Hello C, Renee is right. Fat from ruminants, raised on pasture as nature intended, is very good for you, it’s full of omega-3 that we are all in need of today. Good quality animal fat is an essential part of a healthy diet. The fat molecules in goat milk are very small making them easy to digest. Fat is not fattening, too many calories are fattening, by eating fat you will feel full sooner and eat less. I suggest you take a look at the fabulous book Goat, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, it will tell you everything you want to know about goat and more. Plus it is full of great recipes.

  9. What can you tell me about goat fat? In terms of both the meat and the milk, is the fat fattening? And is it good for you?

    1. C, we’re expecting a response from our resident fat expert any moment, although I can assure you that everything I’ve read over the years asserts that goat fat is healthful in moderation and that, in fact, it takes the form of short-chain fatty acids, which are easier for the body to break down and assimilate than the fat found in other sorts of milks and meats….

  10. I was recently diagnosed with Reactive Hypoglycemia, which is non-diabetic. Now I need to decrease my carbohydrate intake. But, it’s hard to do that while consuming enough daily calories. Also, I lost 11 pounds in the last three months WITHOUT the intention to. I was actually trying to gain muscle weight at that time. I never hesitated to eat healthy fats. But, I was concerned in using animal fats and butter because of the saturated fat.

    I use to eat a lot of complex carbohydrates for my workout. But I think that aggravated my insulin levels, causing more frequent hypoglycemic episodes. I use to lift weights a month ago. But I had to stop because of this condition, especially the constant weight lose, which has not stopped even when I stopped exercising. Now that I have read your article, I’m going to start using pork lard for cooking.

    Does your books include information about diabetes? I need to consume more calories if I want to lift weights again.

    Also, I always cook pasta and bake chicken using virgin olive oil. Does cooking and baking with olive oil decrease it’s nutritional benefits?

    Thank you for this article.

    1. Hello Rusko,

      I must point out that I am not a doctor, nor a nutritionist, simply a cook with a passion for good food and fat. There is an explanation of animal fat in the first chapter of my book, but do not fear butter. All fats are saturated and unsaturated, more important are the quality and source of the fat you consume. Fat is calorie dense. I suggest you consult the Weston A Price foundation site online, they have lots of good information about nutrition and the importance of animal fat. Also there is a blog by nutritionist Barry Groves that you may find interesting.

  11. GOOD WORK! Keep it up; all of your effort in bringing people to their senses! I never skim the fat off of my soup stocks or cooking because it’s just so tasty! I’m skinny and fit and my skin is youthful and healthy. I’m convinced it’s a healthy choice. As for the fat-phobes, I think it’s the replacement flavorings and chemical additives in their supposedly healthy “low fat” food that makes them fat…that and the obsession with artifical sweeteners.

  12. My motto, which I live by, and encourage others to do so as well: “Everything tastes better with butter, bacon, or duck fat”

  13. Yep I believe it fat is good for you and vegetable oil is causing plaque and possible heart attacks. I knew God knew what he was doing when he made animals for us to eat. The meat and the fat!!!! Yaaaaaa! : ). I go out and buy a tub of lard to cook with, forget synthetic man made Stuff. Man will never be as good as God at what he does!

  14. Have you heard about the Twinkie Diet? A professor at Kansas State lost weight SIMPLY by cutting calories, and basically survived off Little Debbie goodies. Bottom line? Weight loss comes from cutting calories, basically regardless of how those calories are consumed. Is it healthy? No, his diet leads to a significant lack of nutrients. So that’s not good.

    But my point is this: dietary fat = body fat in the sense that fat has more calories than protein or carbs (9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 calories per gram of carb or protein). If you consume anything excessively, you’ll gain weight. It just takes less fat to equal the caloric equivalent of anything else.

    I’m all about animal fat. I’d rather fry in lard than oil. My eggs are cooked in bacon grease (mmmm). But anything I eat fried is probably paired with something grilled/baked. Like a previous reader said – balance.

  15. I’ve always believed it was balance, not exclusion in diet that makes us healthy. Nothing more nauseating than hearing someone say “I’m not eating that because it’s not worth my calories” regarding the baked potato with sour cream and butter, then procede to eat the low-fat cake. UGHH! Case in point: we grew up with a vegetable garden, a tradtion I continue. My favorite? Fresh green beans blanched and tossed with onions sauteed with bacon including the drippings. What could be better for you than that?

      1. You’re right Valerie, vegetables taste better with bacon drippings. And David I’m betting you add lashings of butter to your daddy’s corn, favas and potatoes.

  16. It would be interesting to see when the fat phobia began? 1970’s? Does it coincide with the rise in vegetarianism? I have no doubt that the FDA and their food pyramid has a lot to do with it.

    My grandmother used to fry French fries in bacon drippings. Carefully saved, strained through whatever she had on hand to take out the bits of burnt bacon and to clarify. It was what everyone did before there were fats widely available in every grocery store and market world wide. It was also the frugal thing to do… use EVERYTHING.

    My mom eschewed whole milk and using lard when we moved back to the US in the late ’70’s. Oh, I could quite literally kill for an empanada made with lard.

    1. I’m sure you could make a great empanada yourself and you can always render your own lard. Fear of fat began with Ancel Keys and the incorrect linking of saturated fat and heart disease. Then in the 1970s the US Congress urged people to reduce their fat intake and you know the rest.
      Vegetarianism is a lot older than fat phobia.

  17. So nice to find others who know the truth about fat! I was an atkins fan back in the 70’s when he was broadly condemned, but his way of eating worked for me. I must really restrict my refined carbs since I am allergic to most grains. My favorite dessert is berries smothered in whipping cream!

  18. Thank god somebodys spreading the news. I get a bit miffed at all the media/ad barrage of fat=fat when the foods in question tend to be biased towards empty sugary calories. I eat horrifying amounts of butter, meat, cheeses and any other animals fats I can find and thrive on it. I’m sure such a heavy diet is not for everybody, but for me it’s the most energising combination so, hey, it works just fine. As well as energy levels, it’s the only kind of food I find satisfying ie. full. On pasta, and ‘light’ carb meals i just feel listless real quick.. and tend to start having to resort to caffeine, alcohol to pick myself up. Only problem sometimes is remembering to get enough vegetables greens and fruits for mineral balance and micro/phytonutrients.

  19. Does it matter how the animal was fed/raised, from which the fat comes from? Would you still recommend eating the fat from factory-farmed animals? Regular bacon (nitrates/nitrite free of course).

    1. Of course Cee Cee, it matters a lot. I always recommend buying naturally raised animals. The fat from animals that eat grasses is much higher in omega-3. A quote from my next book –
      “Those of us who care about what we eat—and we should all care—must demand
      that the animals we eat are raised naturally and humanely, treated with respect in both life and death. This is the only way a thinking carnivore can continue to eat meat.”

  20. Thanks to Jennifer’s book, I’m learning to praise the lard! I also just rendered my first batch of lard. To think that this was common place not too long ago, and it took me 44 years to do it for the first time myself. If it weren’t for books like Jennifer’s, I feel that we would lose all this great knowledge to the fat phobics.

  21. Did you know there’s actually a diet book called “Eat Fat Lose Fat”, written by Dr. Mary Enig, a world-renowned biochemist and nutritionist, and Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions”?

    I have eschewed liquid vegetable fats for years, except olive oil. In my frig. I currently have jars of home-rendered lard, French duck fat, and the requisite jar of bacon fat, along with several kinds of butter, including homemade raw milk butter with sea salt. Oh, and to toot my own horn, cholesterol, triglyceride and other tests are better now than they were 10 years ago (now in my fifties). Even my college-bound kids have their own stock of lard and duck fat to cook whatever kitchen chemistry experiment they’re into.

    Thanks for a great article. We should all be eating like our grandparents or great grandparents!

    1. Just jumping in here. I know your comment is for Jennifer, WendyK, although I’ve had the pleasure of hearing both Mary and Sally speak, and I agree. Nature knows. Many thanks for the lovely reminder to replenish our larders, so to speak…and yes, duck fat does make everything better, doesn’t it?

    2. I’m familiar with them both too Wendy, and the Weston Price Foundation. Your refrigerator is a real treasure trove. The only liquid fats I have are olive oil and a nut oil. Glad to learn your kids are real fat lovers as well.

  22. I would like to say that violently opposing fat is unfounded. Fat is a crucial aspect to the flavor of the animals we eat. However, one is wrong to “worship fat” if it means overusing it.

    For example- I love pasta and Italian dishes, but hate eating them at restaurants half of the time. Why? The chefs think that the more butter the better. That is certainly not true, and the dishes end up so rich that they are not enjoyable to eat. In addition, these abominations end up tasting like butter instead of the other ingredients. A pad of butter enhances a tomato sauce and gives it a silky dimension, a stick of butter kills it.

    Let’s look at salt. Salt is the chief seasoning across most dishes. It is used to accentuate the flavor of a food. Salt makes a duck breast taste more like a duck breast. But, as soon as you can taste salt, the salt has made the duck breast taste like salt. The same applies to oil, lard, drippings, etc, etc.

    I enjoy your enthusiasm but your stance seems a bit too whimsical to seriously address the correct balance between intoxicating decadence and remarkable simplicity in cooking. Again, I agree with you that it is a silly aspect of our culture that people are so damn touchy about eating the fat of something natural, then turn around and each processed foods laden with ingredients our body does not compute- things like MSG, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame… the list goes on.

    At the opposite extreme- it is also a fallacy that fat should be thrown at every possible food. There is a certain threshold of excellence for each individual preparation that should be honored in terms of fat. Just like the Maillard reaction in toast: there is just the right amount of heat and time that will make something golden, but past that point, the flavor quite literally turns to ash.

    1. Christophocles, I didn’t suggest overusing fat. I want everyone to realize the importance of good animal fat to flavor, taste, satisfaction and their health. I want them not to fear fat. I want to rid the world of the low-fat mentality and the belief that low-fat foods filled with additives are better for them. Just because I advocate fat doesn’t mean I think you should add large amounts of it to everything you eat.

    2. Italians cooked tomato sauces with pork fat and olive oil, not butter. I could never get my spaghetti sauce like my mom’s until I started adding in some fatty cuts of pork. I regrettably noticed that Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” took her old recipes and removed the saturated fat! Now, I’m looking for original versions of her first two cook books that had the lard in them!

        1. Hi Claire (and David),
          unfortunately Hazan’s books are unavailable here in Italy, as far as I know they were originally published in the USA and never got translated and published here, so I can’t help you with those politically incorrect recipes ;)

          good luck with your search!

  23. I so agree with you! My dad is a great cook and he always uses a mixture of pork belly/shrimp/fish sauce to saute with aromatics when cooking Filipino food. I used to omit this crucial first step, and my food never tasted as good as his. Now that I’ve taken the plunge in using pork fat in cooking, my food is very close to tasting as good as my dad’s.

      1. I’m in Toronto and I know a great German guy who butchers Berkshire pigs (a good fatty breed). I get my leaf lard from him.

        1. I have to ask – where in Toronto is your wonderful German pig butcher? I’m in Hamilton and Toronto is definitely not too far a trip for a good pig, both the fat and the meat.

  24. Great article. I recently read Gary Taubes’s last book Why We Get Fat and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the misconceptions about fat and carbs. I’m eating low-carb now and feel great.

    1. I read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, he has a lot of interesting well researched information in his books.

  25. Great article, Jennifer! I am definitely on the good animal fats bandwagon. I need to find some good lard. The supermarket variety is blended with partially hydrogenated oils. Ugh!

    1. Don’t buy any lard that sits on the shelf. Render it yourself it is so simple. Get some back fat or even better leaf lard (pork kidney fat). Leaf lard make unbelievable pastry.

  26. Here, here! My healthy, unclogged heart is buoyed every time I see this message being spread to the world. The looks I get when I tell people about animal fat make me realize, in retrospect, just how kindly they were actually looking at me in the early days of Pollanism. :)

    1. The myth about the evils of good animal fat refuses to die. We’d all be healthier if we just cooked dinner instead of eating from a package.

  27. thanks jennifer! i loved and own the book ‘bones’ and a glad to see you taking much of the same approach with fat. i can’t believe the eschewing of fat’s value in this culture. as you point out, it is a nutrient to our bodies and allows for optimum absorption of many of the other nutrients available in food.

    now, im going to go eat three eggs and 4 pieces of delicious, local bacon.

  28. Hi Jennifer! Oh how happy I was to read this article! And I can vouch that it is not fattening. Since moving to Argentina and cooking and eating with the wonderful meats they have here, taking out 3/4 of the carbs I used to eat in North America, and keeping a healthy dose of vegetables in there I have dropped down 3 clothing sizes. I eat whatever I want, keep the carbs down and am happy as a clam ;)

    Thank you for the great article, I will definitely be forwarding this on, and looking forward to your new book. The odd parts are always the best!


    1. All that grass fed beef and lots of odd bits – lucky you Chrissie. You’re right, the problem is all the carbs, not that I am giving up my baguette any time soon, just eating a smaller piece with more butter.

  29. Yay! Shout it near and far. It’s been driving me nuts for years when people take the skin off roast chicken or won’t have a knob or two of butter on their baked potatoes, then stuff themselves full of sugar!

    1. Spread the word Lynne. Don’t hold back start converting in your home patch, I need all the help I can get.

      1. Have been thrusting your book into the faces of hapless dinner guests AFTER they’ve scoffed plates of marbled grass-fed rib eyes, duck/goose fat roast potatoes and salads with bacon fat vinaigrette… !

    1. Michelle, enjoy! I made that salted butter caramel tart of hers this weekend and ate so much of it that I think I’m going to live to be at least 115 years old. Wonderful cookbook and an extra tasty approach to flavor.

      1. Fervour is good Erin but I can’t guarantee the more Salted Butter tart you eat the longer you’ll live.

      2. I’ve made this, too. It’s delicious. I made little bite-sized versions for my son once as well, with dollops of whipped cream (you know, just because).

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