In the minds of many people, lard is the most unhealthy food imaginable. The conventional wisdom of the last 40 years has been that saturated fats in our diets – that is, fats such as lard that are solid at room temperature – are a principal cause of high cholesterol and rising rates of heart disease.
However, those conclusions now seem to be based on rather shaky science. A more recent scientific analysis of 21 studies determined that there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Instead, the principal culprit in the obesity epidemic, and a major contributor to heart disease, appears to be overconsumption of sugars and carbohydrate-intensive foods.
Nutritionally speaking, lard has more than twice the monounsaturated fat of butter. It is also low in omega-6 fatty acids, known to promote inflammation. According to lard enthusiasts, free-range pigs that eat greens, not grains, have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Lard has always been prized as a cooking fat because it has a higher smoking point than other fats. For that reason, foods fried in lard absorb less grease. It also has the reputation of producing ultra-flaky pastry crust. For all of these reasons, lard has been making a comeback in high-end restaurants.
Avoid hydrogenated lard from supermarkets. The best lard is considered to be minimally processed "leaf lard" from the area around the pig's abdomen and kidneys or fatback lard from the pig's back. You can get this type at high-end specialty markets or online.
Should you eat lard? Consumption of animal foods raises ethical questions for many people. These concerns are an individual matter, and I won’t presume to weigh in on this complex issue. However, particularly if the lard comes from free-range, organically raised pigs, I don’t believe it is harmful to human health.