Monday, July 11, 2011

Healthy Fats Cost Analysis

I've heard from many sources that when you're just starting to eat healthier, the first thing you should change is the type of fat you eat.  Fats do so many important jobs in our bodies (like making up our cell membranes, transmitting messages in our brains and nerves, etc.), that if we aren't eating enough of the right ones, our health can't help but deteriorate.  When we switch our unhealthy fats out for the right ones, however, it's remarkable how much better we can feel in a short time.

Yes, we may all have different ideas of what "healthy fats" are, but the ones consumed by my family are the ones that have been eaten by healthy people for thousands of years, and that come from farms and forests, not factories.  Unfortunately, real fats are waaaay more expensive than the subsidized, processed "vegetable" (read: soy) type sold in the baking aisle of the grocery store.  Out of my own nerdy curiosity, I did a little cost analysis of the types of fats we use most frequently, based on the prices I usually pay for them.  The units are in dollars per fat calorie.

Butter: We use this for baking, spreading on toast, scrambling our eggs, adding to our oatmeal, and occasionally just slicing a piece off to eat because it's so darn good.  We generally buy our store brand's organic butter, but I've recently discovered Kerry Gold Irish Butter, which claims to come from grass-fed cows.  It's pretty pricey (more than twice as much as our normal organic), and I don't know if I really want to make something coming all the way from Ireland a staple in my kitchen.  But it's delicious.  I'm still hunting for a local source of butter from grass-fed cows.  It remains to be seen whether the food budget can accommodate grass-fed butter.

Coconut oil: This is also fantastic in baked goods, and sometimes we put it in our smoothies too.  One of my favorite things about it is that it helps extend the shelf life of my baked goods, since it doesn't have to be refrigerated.  I am still learning how to use coconut oil, and it's kind of an effort for me to remember to use it.  I know it's fantastically healthy, though, so we shall persevere!

Olive Oil: I guess this is the only fat we use that is considered "healthy" by the main-stream nutrition media.  We use it in all kinds of things, like salad dressings and sauces, but try to avoid cooking with it, since it has a very low smoke point and loses many of its nutritive properties when heated too much.

Cream: We are still looking for a good source of cream (I could skim it off our milk, I guess, but we just shake it right in to give to the kids) that is not ultra-pasteurized, and that is (dare I hope?) grass-fed.  But we do occasionally buy the store-bought conventional kind to use for whipping, sauces, or adding to coffee.  Yum!

Cod Liver Oil:  Okay, I don't really cook with this, I just choke it down.  :)  The kids have no idea that I add it to their applesauce or watered-down juice sippy cups once a day.

Rendered Lard: I have not yet found a great source of lard, tallow, or duck fat (but I haven't given up!), so for now our only lard source is rendered from our nitrate-free bacon.  This has a myriad of delicious uses, but my favorites are baking in biscuits and cooking with greens.  This is essentially free for us, since we would just throw it away after cooking the bacon otherwise, so I didn't include it on the graph.

Real Food ForagerCoconut OilCod Liver OilButter The 20 Health Benefits of Real Butter

What are the main fats and oils you use in your kitchen?  Do you have any unique sources or uses for the fats you use?  What do you think about animal fats and cholesterol?

Posted at Monday Mania, Made from Scratch Tuesday, Tuesdays at the Table, Tuesday Tasty Tidbits, Traditional Tuesdays, and Simple Lives Thursday


  1. Interesting post...I never thought of comparing price per calorie.

    I use coconut oil almost exclusively, with the exception of a stick of butter for a batch of cookies...coconut oil doesn't work, I tried.

    We were paying about $1/lb for coconut oil, until the price doubled. Even at $2/lb, it's less expensive than commercial butter here.

    I do use olive oil from time to time for unheated items, like mayo or beet salad.

    Lard isn't going to be as good of a fat unless the pig is not fed grain and legumes, they don't convert PUFA's into saturated fat like a ruminant can.

  2. This is so interesting! I might add that the coconut oil is quite controversial. As a nutrition educator, following the govt. recommendations, this is a no-no. Too much saturated fat, although most health enthusiasts think it's super healthy? Tell me why you feed your children cod liver oil daily. I know it is a great source of Vitamin D, but don't your children get enough of that outside in that mountain sun?

    Personally, I use olive oil for most sauteing although I understand it probably gets too hot. Butter makes all baked goods tasty, although I'm thinking that trying some coconut oil might be necessary. I haven't ever used it because of the saturated fat but the additional shelf life might be super nice.

  3. Hi, Jenny,
    It's fantastic how inexpensive coconut oil is. I wonder how fair-trade it is, or whether it is detrimental to the people who harvest it. That's news to me that pigs don't convert PUFA's to saturated fat - good thing we don't eat much lard, I guess. Thanks for the info! It sounds like it could be very difficult to find a good source.

    I wondered what you might think about our fat choices. :) Many sources think saturated fats have been given a bad name by being lumped together with trans fats in many studies. Check out the source at the end of the article for a great description of the health benefits of coconut oil! It works really well in all of my breads, but so far I haven't had any luck with it in cookies. You're a much better baker than I am, though, so I bet you'll love it. :)

    As for cod liver oil, we also value the omega-3's and the vitamin A that it contains. And even up here, it's hard for us to get enough sunshine to get our daily dose of D! Especially in the winter.

  4. Awesome Information! Since the brain is mostly made up of fat it should be a no-brainer to incorporate healthy fats into your diet!

  5. Love math posts :), the fat I cook with breaks down like this:

    Cents per fat calorie:

    Coconut Oil (Organic) - 2.34
    Olive Oil (Organic) - 1.83
    Butter (Grass-fed) - 1.78
    Lard (Pastured)- 0.67
    Tallow (Grass-fed) - 0.63
    Raw Cream (Grass-fed) - 4.4
    Coconut Milk - 1.45
    Cod Liver Oil - 24.8 :o

    I use the coconut oil and butter the most. I've been trying to cook with the lard and tallow more, and this makes me really want to keep on it, because not only it is very cheap, it's from a good farm with grass-fed cows and pastured pigs. They sell the bulk fat by the lb and I render it in the crockpot.

    I only get cream occasionally for ice cream, don't really cook with it.

    The CLO didn't surprise me, it's expensive: but interesting to see how it compares.

  6. Rachel, it does seem like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Strange how we're still supposed to eat fats "sparingly," according to the official advice, isn't it?

    Andy, glad you enjoyed the math post! It is fascinating to see how different peoples' sources compare, as well. Good luck with the lard and tallow.

  7. As far as getting the cod liver into your kids hidden in juice or applesauce: do you buy a special flavor, or just the unflavored? I've tried the cinnamon flavor, but my kids wouldn't touch it after one try. Thanks!

  8. Julie, I've had the most success with the unflavored. We have also tried cherry and mint flavored, but putting them in my kids' food always seems really unappetizing. I think the main thing that helps me is that my kids are really young and have no idea what juice is "supposed" to taste like. :) Hopefully they'll grow up thinking it's supposed to be a little fishy.


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