What Are Hydrogenated Oils?
Confession time: I grew up on margarine. I grew up on margarine because my mother grew up on margarine, and I still don’t quite feel at home using butter on a regular basis. For baking? Sure, butter’s fine. For high-ish end cooking? Makes sense to me. But to just dip into for any old kitchen task? It is not a practiced instinct yet. But I’m working on making it one, because many margarine brands are full of hydrogenated oils. What are hydrogenated oils? Let’s discuss.
Hydrogenated oils are one the first manufactured foods. They’ve been around since 1911, when a scientist for Procter & Gamble found that he could combine hydrogen with cottonseed oil. The product was originally supposed to be a soap, but because it looked like lard, Procter & Gamble decided it had potential as a food, and started selling Crisco (short for “crystallized cottonseed oil”).
During the Great Depression and World War II, it was really hard to get your hands on butter, because everything was restricted by resources and rationing. Margarine—which was originally a lard-like product made with beef fat, but by the ‘50’s was almost entirely hydrogenated oils—was a cheaper option that didn’t require cows. Plus, it had a longer shelf life than butter, and made flaky and fluffy baked goods. There was literally no downside!
Then in the late ‘50s, health experts started to come down hard on saturated fats, which are found in butter and beef and lard, because they were considered bad for our heart health. Margarine was advertised as a low-fat alternative to the classics, and sales continued to rise.
So why, in 2018, is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) working to ban all hydrogenated oils? Let’s look at the science.
Hydrogenated oil is made by a process where liquid oil is hardened, making it spreadable at room temperature (a real siren song if you’ve ever tried to spread cold butter on warm toast and ended up with toast pieces). The process increases both saturated and trans fat levels in the oil.
What are trans fats?
Trans fats are fats that are formed by hydrogenating oils, when unsaturated fats are mixed with hydrogen molecules.
Now, it is possible to have naturally occurring trans fats. They’re produced in the guts of some animals, so meat and milk-based foods may have a small amount of trans fats in them. But they’re a different beast altogether from the manufactured trans fats, and the amount of trans fat you get in a bite of food with hydrogenated oil is way higher than what you’d get from a naturally-occurring moment of trans fat.
What is the health effect?
Trans fats are bad for you. Hydrogenated oils, because they are high in trans fats, are bad for you. Trans fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. And they lower the “good” cholesterol at the same time. Trans fats are linked to an increased risk of diabetes, and also cause inflammation in the body, which is linked to a number of health issues.
Think of your veins and arteries as a hose. Water flows through it best when the hose is completely clear of objects. But sometimes you get a little sand in there, or some pebbles, and the hose can get clogged, and you can’t get water through it as effectively. Too much fat in your diet can be like putting sand or small pebbles into your bloodstream. It means your heart has to work a little bit harder to push the blood to where it needs to be. Trans fats are like putting big ol’ rocks into your hose.
In 2002, the National Academies of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine said there is no “safe” level of trans fat in the diet. Any increase in trans fat intake is an increase in the risk of heart disease.
How do I avoid trans fats?
Hydrogenated oils were in pretty much every processed food for a while there. They were so popular because they made foods last longer and, some said, taste better. Back in 2007, Health Canada gave food production companies two years to drastically reduce the number of trans fats they had in their products. By 2009, many companies had complied, but there are still some serious offenders out there. The U.S. FDA is also working to eliminate hydrogenated oils, but has extended the deadline for companies to be compliant with the new regulations until 2020.
If you want to avoid hydrogenated oils in your own diet, the key is to avoid processed foods and eat a holistic, balanced combination of foods. And that includes the oils you eat. We’ve covered the healthiest cooking oils in a recent blog post, so check that out if you want a full list.
But if you’re looking for a one stop shop healthy oil option, you’re looking for Activation’s Five Seed Blend. We combined the powers of pumpkin, flax, sunflower, sesame, and coriander seed oils for whole body, holistic nutrition and health. This is everything you need in one bottle, and because it’s Activation, each bottle contains thousands of perfectly pressed, undamaged seeds. You don’t need to refrigerate this oil, because it doesn’t start to go rancid as soon as you open it. And the benefits are immediate and lifelong.
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