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Animal Fats

Source: A Handbook Of Health

The Digestibility of Fats. We have now come to the last group of the
real Coal foods, namely, the fats. Fats are the hottest and most
concentrated fuel that we possess, and might be described as the
anthracites, or hard coals of our Coal foods. They are, also, as
might be expected from their strength or concentration, among the
slowest to digest of all our foods, so that, as a rule, we can eat them
only in very moderate amounts, seldom exceeding one-tenth to one-sixth
of our total food-fuel. It is not, however, quite correct to say that
fats are hard to digest, because, although from their solid, oily
character, they take a longer time to become digested and absorbed by
the body than most other foods, yet they are as perfectly and as
completely digested, with the healthy person, as any other kind of food.
Indeed, it is this slowness of digestion which gives them their
well-known staying-power as a food.

Their Place in our Diet. The wholesomeness of fats is well shown by
our appetite for them, which is very keen for small amounts of
them--witness, for instance, how quickly we notice and how keenly we
object to the absence of butter on our bread or potatoes. To have our
bread well-buttered is a well known expression for comfort and good
fortune; yet a very little excess will turn our enjoyment into disgust.
Fat, and particularly the cold fat of meat, gags us if we try to eat
too much of it.

Fortunately, most of these fat-foods are quite expensive, pound for
pound, and hence we are not often tempted to eat them in excess. Within
proper limits, then, fats are an exceedingly important and useful
food--a valuable member of the great family of Coal foods.

The Advantages of Fat as a Ration. The high fuel value and the small
bulk of fats give them a very great practical advantage whenever
supplies of food have to be carried for long distances, or for
considerable lengths of time, as in sea voyages and hunting and
exploring trips. So that in provisioning ships for a long voyage, or
fitting out an expedition for the Arctic regions, fats, in the shape of
bacon or pork, pemmican,[9] or the richer dried fishes, like salmon,
mackerel, and herring, will be found to play an important part. Fats
also have the great advantage, like the starches, of keeping well for
long periods, especially after they have been melted and sterilized by
boiling, or rendering, as in the case of lard, or have had moderate
amounts of salt added to them, as in butter.

If you were obliged to pick out a ration which would keep you alive,
give you working power, and fit into the smallest possible bulk, you
would take a protein, a sugar, and a fat in about equal amounts. Indeed,
the German emergency field-ration, intended to keep soldiers in the
field for three or four days without their baggage-wagons, or
cook-trains, is made up of bacon, pea-meal, and chocolate. A small
packet of these, which weighs only a little over two pounds, and which
can be slipped into the knapsack, will, with plenty of water, keep a
soldier in fighting trim for three days.

Butter. The most useful and wholesome single fat is the one which is
in greatest demand--butter. This, as we have seen, is the churned and
concentrated fat of milk, to which a little salt has been added to keep
the milk-acid (lactic acid) which cannot be entirely washed out of it,
from turning it sour or rancid. The rancid, offensive taste of bad or
strong butter is due to the formation of another acid call butyric
(buttery) acid.

Butter is the best and most wholesome of our common fats because it is
most easily digested, most readily absorbed, and least likely to give
rise to this butyric acid fermentation. We should be particularly
careful, even more so almost than with other foods, to see that it is
perfectly sweet and good, because when we swallow rancid butter, we are
simply swallowing a ready-made attack of indigestion. Most people's
stomachs are strong enough to deal with small amounts of rancid butter
without discomfort; but it is a strain on them that ought to be
avoided, especially when good butter is simply a matter of strict
cleanliness and care in handling and churning the cream, and of keeping
the butter cool after it has been made.

Plenty of sweet butter is one of the most important and necessary
elements in our diet, especially in childhood. And if children are
allowed to eat pretty nearly as much as they want of it on their bread
or potatoes, and plenty of its liquid form, cream, on their berries and
puddings, it will save the necessity of many a dose of cod-liver oil, or
bitter physic. Cream is far superior to either cod-liver or castor oil
for keeping us in health.

Oleomargarine. On account of the expensiveness of butter, there are a
number of substitutes sold, which go under the name of oleomargarine.
These are made of the fat, or suet, of beef or mutton, mixed with a
certain amount of cream and real butter, to give them an agreeable
flavor. They are wholesome and useful fats, and for cooking purposes may
very largely be substituted for butter. Owing to the fact that their
fat is freer from the milk acids, they keep better than butter; and
sweet, sound oleomargarine is to be preferred to rank, rancid butter.
But it is not so readily digestible as butter is; is more liable to give
rise to the butyric acid fermentations in the stomach; is not nearly so
appetizing; and its sale as, and under the name of, butter is a fraud
which the law rightly forbids and punishes.

Lard. The next most useful and generally used pure fat is lard--the
rendered, or boiled-down, fat of pork. It is a useful substitute for
butter in cooking, where butter is scarce. But, even in pastry or cakes,
it has neither the flavor nor the digestibility of butter, and the
latter should always be used when it can be had.

Bacon and Ham. The most useful and digestible fat meats are bacon and
ham, as the dried, salted, and usually smoked, meat of the pig is
called. Like all other fats, they can be eaten only in moderate amounts;
but thus eaten, they are both appetizing, digestible, and very
nutritious. One good slice of breakfast bacon, for instance, contains as
much fuel value as two large saucers of mush or breakfast food, or two
eggs, or two large slices of bread, or three oranges, or two small
glasses of milk, or a quart of berries.

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