What’s So Bad About Hydrogenated Oil

What’s So Bad About Hydrogenated Oil

Hydrogenated oil has gotten a pretty bad rap in the last couple years and deservedly so. The culprit? Trans Fats or TFA’s. The product of  a chemical process, these little devils occur when hydrogen gas is added to oil at high pressures, turning liquid oil into a semi solid and more stable product like shortening or margarine. A bit of weird science to be sure but what’s the real problem?

I talked to Suzanne Bardos, Nutrition Director & Executive Chef at Equilibrium Nutrition. Here’s what she had to say: “Hydrogenated oils are widely used in the food industry because they’re cheap and may increase the shelf life of packaged foods. The downside is that the chemicals and heat used to harden the oils form trans fatty acids (TFA’s). TFA’s are unstable fat molecules with unnatural shapes and compounds that can damage DNA and human cell membranes. TFA’s not only contribute to heart disease, but may also increase cancer risks, promote inflammation in the body and accelerate tissue degeneration.”

As if that weren’t enough reason to steer clear, the trans fats of hydrogenated oil have a special double whammy effect on cholesterol. It is the only fat we ingest that not only raises bad cholesterol in the body (LDL) but, unlike other fats it also lowers good cholesterol (HDL). Over time, high LDL levels contribute to arterial plaque and heart disease.

Interesting, fully hydrogenated oil doesn’t seem to pose the same risks. Suzanne says “fully hydrogenated oil is essentially a saturated fat, not a trans fat. It’s used in small amounts in the food industry mainly as an emulsifier, as it is waxy and not suitable for consumption in normal amounts. Full hydrogenation produces smooth cells, thereby avoiding all the kinks and damaging rough edges of partial hydrogenation”. However labelling being what it is, it is often difficult to discern this difference and the word “hydrogenated” on a package label should always raise a red flag for trans fats.

Since 2005, Health Canada has required labelling of trans fats in most but not all foods so check labels and ingredient lists and heed Suzanne’s best advice; “Avoid fast foods, packaged and processed foods. Instead, choose fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fresh fish, poultry and meats from your butcher counter.”

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