Just the sight of it conjures up thoughts of heart attacks and bulging waistlines, but dripping – yes, the big, white slabs of animal fat – isn’t as unhealthy as you might think.
That’s according to its fans at least, who include top chefs Heston Blumenthal, Mary Berry (the Bake Off judge uses it in her lasagne) and Rick Stein.
Ok, it’s not exactly a ‘health food’, but dripping contains the same amount of saturated fat as butter (though it does have more calories; 889 per 100g compared with butter’s 717), and because it has a richer flavour, usually less is required.
Decades ago, dripping was commonplace in kitchens across the country, but it became unpopular in the Seventies, when fat was declared the dietary enemy. But is it as bad as we think?
Recent research suggests fat is an essential part of our diet and we should be consuming it instead of refined carbohydrates and sugar. But before you reach for that jar of dripping, consider the arguments.
What do the experts say?
Some scientists claim we’re probably better consuming animal fats like butter and dripping, as the omega-6 polyunsaturated fat found in margarines made from sunflower oil can lead to inflamed arteries and trigger heart disease.
Researchers at Cambridge University found that giving up fatty meat, cream or butter is unlikely to improve health, but called for guidelines to be changed to reflect growing evidence suggesting there’s no overall association between saturated fat and heart disease.
Plus, we now eat 46% less saturated fat than in 1975 but are still plagued with the scourge of obesity, which indicates that maybe fat isn’t the only reason our waistbands are expanding. One study found that when three groups of obese people were fed diets of 90% fat, 90% protein and 90% carbohydrates, respectively, the high-fat group lost the most weight.
Is margarine is better for you than butter?
It’s widely accepted by scientists that trans fats - found in many fast foods, bakery products and margarines – can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Are there benefits in saturated fat?
Saturated fat can boost liver health, encouraging liver cells to dump their fat cells, which helps it function more effectively.
Saturated fatty acids, especially kinds found in butter and coconut, aid immunity, helping white blood cells destroy viruses and bacteria. Eating saturated fats can also increase testosterone levels, helping repair tissue, preserve muscle and improve sexual function.
Will saturated fat give me high cholesterol?
Possibly. There are two kinds of LDL cholesterol: big particles (type A – good cholesterol) and small, dense ones (type B – bad cholesterol).
Type B is more closely linked with heart disease. Research shows that when someone reduces their intake of saturated fat, only the type A cholesterol drops. Heart disease and obesity are linked with inactivity, trans fats, refined carbs and overeating, but not saturated fat alone.
Is saturated fat worse than refined sugar?
Some scientists say lots of sugar and simple carbohydrates – like white bread and white flour - cause the damaging LDL cholesterol. Sugar’s converted into bad cholesterol in our body.
The problem comes when you replace fat with sugar. One study found that in countries where people had greater access to sugar, there were higher levels of Type 2 diabetes. Hidden sugars in processed food increase the problem.
Should I have jam rather than butter on my bread?
Nutritionist Robert Hobson says: “Jam has a high sugar content and I would rather have less sugar in my diet than fat, because sugar’s just empty calories. There’s no nutritional benefit to sugar, whereas fat still has other nutrients which can benefit health. Excess sugar is converted into fat anyway.
“My issue with saturated fat is eating all the processed foods which also contain loads of sugar, salt and other rubbish,” he adds. “Saturated fat is still considered to be bad for your heart, but I don’t think there’s that much of an issue including full-fat dairy food, eggs and certain meats in your diet in moderation, but I think you should cut down on processed food.”