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Pi Day - Pie Day: Which fats are healthiest for your favorite pastry crust?

Are most mainstream newspaper recipes for pie still giving recipes for pie crust that clog arteries and/or contain too many trans fats? Welcome to National Pie Day which falls on March 14, 2014. The reason for the date is that in math Pi starts with 3.14, and March is the third month of 2014. So it's pie day. But most pie crust recipes in general mass-media publications still give the same fattening recipes for pie crust made with hardened vegetable shortening, and most filling contains adding sugar instead of the natural unsweetened flavor of the fruit. Check out the March 12, 2014 Sacramento Bee article, "Bake a perfect pie for Pi Day."

National Pie Day: Which fats are healthiest for your favorite pie crust?
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The recipe in the Sacramento Bee for the pie crust notes that it was adapted from the website. The Sacramento Bee's online version also lists Crisco’s Pie Hotline offers recorded tips on pie making, 24 hours a day, a listing where you can talk to a pie expert via the Crisco Pie Hotline from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PDT Monday through Friday, or to find recipes and more tips at the website. So what's with making a pie crust using well, Crisco well-chilled hard, white vegetable shortening instead of more heart-healthy fats such as almond meal, sesame oil, flax seeds and oat bran, or any other combination of fats? In other countries, pie crust is kneaded with fats ranging from lard to rendered chicken fat to organic butter from grass-fed livestock.

Only, pie crust doesn't have to be made with fat from hardened vegetable shortening

Ground nuts work just fine as do other flours besides the usual all-purpose bleached white wheat flour that so many consumers turn to. In the recipe in today's Sacramento Bee, the pie crust recipe calls for ingredients such as the Classic Pie Crust recipe on the site. See, "Classic Crisco Pie Crust." Back in the 1920s through the 1950s, many people switched from baking with coconut oil or butter and lard or chicken fat to trans fats such as some types of margarine or various canned trans fats. But what about today when companies dropped trans fats from various shortening formulas? See, "Crisco drops trans fats from shortening formula - NBC News." You may also enjoy, "The Forgotten, Fascinating Saga Of Crisco : The Salt: NPR." Or see, "A History of Trans Fat." Check out, "FDA Moves To Phase Out Remaining Trans Fats In Food Supply." When a lot of companies dropped trans fats, what they did was reduce the trans fats below the legal limit allowed of trans fats in shortening or other fats and spreads.

Crisco has significantly reduced the amount of trans fats in their shortening, but only enough to allow them to legally claim 0 grams trans fat per serving on the label. When you check out the ingredient list, it still contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil. When you do the math, you find that each tablespoon contains just under 1/2 g of trans fats, as you can read in the article, "Does Crisco Contain Trans-Fats?" Any given company can legally claim 0 grams of trans fats but could have some trans fats in any given product as long as it was under .5g of trans fats per serving without listing trans fats on the label. See the New York Post article, "Trans fat frauds! Some 'healthy' food full of it."

Why use shortening of any kind, if you can make pie crust from ground almond meal, flaxseeds, and other ground nuts if you want fat? And why use tropical oils such as palm oil? If you use extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil, know that it has medium-chain triglycerides instead of long-chain triglycerides you find in saturated fat from animals such as butter or lard.

Now the question remains, which are healthier: Medium or long-chain triglycerides in saturated fats? Coconut oil has no cholesterol. Animal fats such as butter or bacon grease have long-chain triglycerides. Long at the effects on the health of people who still bake with melted chicken fat, lard, or bacon grease. As an alternative, there's sesame seed oil to grease your ingredients with no cholesterol. And if you need saturated fat, you might look at unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil.

The classic Crisco® recipe for a single pie crust calls for 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour

The site lists a particular brand. The amount of fat for a single pie crust in the recipe calls for 1/ stick of well-chilled Crisco® All-Vegetable Shortening or 1/2 cup well-chilled Crisco® All-Vegetable Shortening. And for those on low-salt diets, why add salt to pie crust if you don't need the salt to impact your health condition? The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Really, you don't need to salt pie crust. Then you add 3 to 6 tablespoons of ice cold water. For a deep dish double crust, the recipe doubles the amount of fat, flour, water, and salt. If you want the recipe, it's at the site, "Classic Crisco Pie Crust."

The only issue is what if you want a different type of fat in your crust? And what if you don't want to use flour from bleached-white wheat? Or if you're on a low-salt diet and don't need to dump salt into your pie crust that you won't taste?

You could use ground almond meal instead of shortening/fat for a crust, moistened with a few tablespoons of almond milk

Or you could use organic butter from grass-fed animals. Or you could use extra virgin coconut oil. But what if you don't want saturated fat in your pie? Then your fat content could come from unrefined sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, rice bran oil, or grape seed oil. And instead of flour, how about substituting a third of each dry ingredient of oat bran, flaxseed meal, and garbanzo bean flour?

That way you get your omega 3 fatty acids from the flaxseed meal, and your vitamin B from the garbanzo bean flour, with the bran coming from the oat bran or black rice bran, to add a little more vitamin B and other vitamins to the crust. You also get the fiber in the pie from the flaxseed meal and the bran of choice. Oat bran is neutral, but rice bran may taste a bit more bitter. Or you could use part oat meal and an equal part of any other bran you prefer.

You don't always have to make a pie with vegetable shortening. And you don't have to add sugar to the fruit in your pie. If you need sweet, try a pinch of stevia (a plant) or a few raisins or other dried fruit for more sweetening power. Fresh strawberries put in a baked pie shell don't need sugar. They can have a gel surrounding them such as unflavored gelatin or simply a little of arrowroot powder or tapioca starch and fruit juice to thicken the juice around the fruit. The goal is to choose each ingredient based on what you need to accomplish to focus on how the food will impact your health condition, adjusting ingredients to fit your special dietary preferences.

Pie Day falls each year on March 14, (3.14) because pi is an infinite number that represents a constant: the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. In baking, pie is another constant –a (usually circular) dessert favorite with infinite possibilities, says the Sacramento Bee article. But with all this math, what about a pie crust with healthier ingredients that don't clog the arteries because some people eat the whole pie by themselves? If it tastes so good, it's going to be too hard to eat only one slice. And for those who eat emotionally for comfort, pretty soon the entire pie is consumed, sometimes in front of the TV set, and often by one person. The moral of Pie Day is to know which fats affect your health in various ways, based on your genetic and/or metabolic predispositions and family health history.

Do protein requirements increase with age?

Or does too much protein cause bone loss and eyesight issues? Diets high in animal protein may help prevent functional decline in elderly individuals, says one study. But elderly vegans are wondering whether their diet also prevent rapid decline.

The new study says that a diet high in protein, particularly animal protein, may help elderly individuals maintain a higher level of physical, psychological, and social function according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Due to increasing life expectancies in many countries, increasing numbers of elderly people are living with functional decline, such as declines in cognitive ability and activities of daily living. This can have profound effects on the health and well-being of older adults and their caregivers, as well as on health care resources.

What types of dietary protein requirements increase with age?

Research suggests that as people age, their ability to absorb or process protein may decline. To compensate for this loss, protein requirements may increase with age. Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and her colleagues in Tohoku University and Teikyo University, Japan, wondered whether protein intake might affect the functional capabilities of older adults. Researchers designed a study to investigate the relationship between protein intake and future decline in higher-level functional capacity in older community-dwelling adults in Japan.

Their analysis included 1,007 individuals with an average age of 67.4 years who completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. Participants were divided into four groups (quartiles) according to their intake levels of total, animal, and plant protein. Tests of higher-level functional capacity included social and intellectual aspects as well as measures related to activities of daily living.

The relationship between protein intake and future decline in higher-level functional capacity of older adults is researched

Men in the highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. These associations were not seen in women. No consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.

"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living,” says Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi, according to the March 10, 2014 news release, "Diets high in animal protein may help prevent functional decline in elderly individuals." “Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity.”

You also may wish to check out the abstracts of these other studies: "Difference in Muscle Quality over the Adult Life Span and Biological Correlates in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (pages 230–236)" and "Sarcopenic Obesity and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: A Population-Based Cohort Study of Older Men (pages 253–260)." Another study's abstract you may wish to see is, "Effect of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (pages 25–39)."

Also please check out and/or subscribe (free) to any or all of my 8 various nutrition, health, or cultural media columns such as my Sacramento Nutrition Examiner column, Sacramento Healthy Trends Examiner column, Sacramento Holistic Family Health Examiner column, Sacramento Media & Culture Examiner column, and my national columns: National Senior Health Examiner column, National Children's Nutrition Examiner column, National Senior Nutrition Examiner - column, and the National Healthy Trends Examiner column.

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