“What exactly are partially hydrogenated oils, and why are they so bad for you?”

As a student of nutrition and food science, this is a question I am asked so frequently that I thought I would post some information regarding hydrogenated oils here on Milk & Sugar.

Partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, are made via a chemical reaction that adds hydrogen molecules to an oil (an unsaturated fat) to make it a solid fat. This process is called “hydrogenation.”  During hydrogenation, the chemical changes that occur to the oil/fat produce trans fatty acids.  Food manufactures use partially hydrogenated oils in foods like crackers, pastries, baked goods, and shortening to extend the shelf life of the food and improve the texture.  Have you ever noticed that some of these foods can sit in a package on your shelf for months?  Hydrogenated oils are part of the reason why.

Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.  This is because they do two things that are bad for your health:

1) they raise your “bad” choleseterol levels (LDL-cholesterol);

2) they lower your “good” cholesterol levels (HDL-cholesterol).  This combination may put a person at increased risk for heart disease.

“How can you avoid trans fats?”

Avoid foods that have “partially hydrogenated” anywhere on the ingredient label.  Unfortunately, because of U.S. labeling laws you can’t assume a product is 100% trans fat free just because the front label says “No trans fat,” or the nutrition label states the food has 0 grams trans fat.  This is because foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving (not to be confused with per package) can be labeled as 0 grams trans fat.

Sneaky, right?  Read your ingredients carefully, not just the nutrition labels.  Partially hydrogenated oils are in a wide range of products, like peanut butter, store-bought cookies and breads, even some of those amazing smelling freshly baked breads in super markets.

words to look out for:

trans fats, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, monoglycerides, diglycerides

I hope this is helpful!!  -Michelle