Flash in the Pan 

The skinny on fat: the perfect food equation

You don’t have to read too many “Flash in the Pan” columns to know how Chef Boy Ari feels about fat. My favorite expression is “fat is flavor.” My New Year’s resolution was to make more mayonnaise than I purchase—and I buy it by the case. I dig meat fat too, if I know where the meat has been. The guy who raises my bacon is a really nice organic guy, and he looks like Hunter S. Thompson. I just wish he would deliver more bacon to the store, because there is nothing like starting with chopped bacon in the cast iron skillet, in some sizzling mustard oil, or grapeseed oil. I like olive oil too, but not for hot frying. Olive oil is good in homemade mayo, with good eggs.

Sometimes, old cliches ring so true. For example, “you are what you eat.” Combine that cliche with, “fat is flavor,” apply algebra, and y’all can re-christen me Chez Flavor Boi. Dig. And by the way, there is something that you absolutely must know about bringing out the ideal flavor of the fat, a simple cooking tip that can be applied infinite ways. I’ll get to that. But first, this story.

Since the 1960s, the medical establishment has told America that low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets are the way to lose weight and protect your heart. All the while, the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Health (NIH), and thousands of researchers, physicians, food corporations, advertisers—even Congress—have been chanting “Death to fat! Eat carbohydrates” as the mantra of perfect health. Millions of Americans bought and swallowed this dietary paradigm.

Meanwhile, food manufacturers have had to find new ways to make their food taste good without fat. Some of these ways were patented, such as Proctor and Gamble’s fake fat, Olestra. Mostly though, manufacturers simply used sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Armed with medical establishment propaganda and the finest airbrushes and spin-doctoral advertising money could buy, they set out to make us eat their new products.

According to an article in The New York Times Magazine by Gary Taubes, American fat consumption has been steadily declining in the American diet since the early 1980s, and this trend continues today. During this same period, the American obesity rate has more than doubled. Meanwhile NIH has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on studies to demonstrate a link between eating fat and developing heart disease. And these studies have failed to prove the link. Low-fat diets still don’t work. So what’s going on?

Taubes unpacks the physiology in terms of hormones. The main player is insulin, which is released from the pancreas in response to surges in blood sugar levels, surges which normally occur when we eat sugar or carbohydrates. High levels of insulin stimulate the assembly of fat molecules from blood sugar. High insulin levels also tell your brain that you are hungry, so maybe you reach for more. The ironic outcome of this insulin behavior is that the sweet, low-fat, high carbo foods we have been fed by the corporate/medical/advertising/political/media establishment are precisely what are making Americans so fat. Interestingly, foods with refined carbohydrates are the cheapest to make and offer the highest profit margin, calorie for calorie. And luckily for the food corporations, despite the decrease in fat intake over the last two decades, daily caloric intake has increased on average by 400 calories.

Fat, on the other hand, doesn’t make you hungry , it makes you sated. And fat suppresses insulin. Low insulin can trigger a state called ketosis, during which body fat is broken down. This is the strategy behind the many “high protein, higher fat, zero carbo” diets that have been around for years. While uniformly scoffed at as quackery by the medical establishment, many gurus in this movement are rich, because their clients lost significant amounts of weight.

Meanwhile, recent cholesterol research indicates that unsaturated fats such as olive oil and some animal fats, will improve your balance between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, and protect you from heart disease. There is also strong evidence that many saturated fats don’t necessarily even hurt this balance.

My friends, fat is not the problem. The real question is: good fat versus not so good fat. That’s why when I buy fat, I buy the best there is: the most organic and least processed and most loved fat I can find, because that’s the fat that is most fulfilling. Maybe Chez Flavor Boi needs to start his own diet plan. I’ll call it The Mayonnaise Method.

Now, to return to the secret tip for bringing out the flavor in the fat: Acid, my friends. The true equation should read fat+acid=flavor. Fat coats the tongue, and acid cuts through the fat, tingling the taste buds and providing intense oral pleasure. Consider wine and cheese, or oil and vinegar. It really works. So, whatever fat your next meal incorporates, choose your acid wisely. My favorite is the vinegar from a jar of pickled spicy peppers. 

E-mail Chef Boy Ari: Flash@missoulanews.com

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