For one of my health promotion and education classes this semester, I get to do a presentation on Nutrition! For part it I’m talking about Hydrogenated fats, because they are one of my biggest issues with processed foods that people regularly consume thinking that they are reasonably healthy for them. Anyway, I thought my blog was the perfect place to practice exactly how I’m going to lay the information out for my class, so here you go.
Hydrogenated Fats, and Why they piss me off.
Where do we find Hydrogenated fats?
Hydrogenated oil is in a surprisingly large amount of foods that we encounter on a daily basis. It is the number one ingredient in margarine, so anything with margarine in it is going to have a lot of hydrogenated fat. It is in biscuits, cakes, frozen foods, and a lot of dairy products.
Another name for hydrogenated oil is trans fat. That term is familiar, right? Most people know that it is something that they should avoid, right under saturated fat when they are looking at nutrition labels. But a lot of people think that when they read “hydrogenated vegetable oil” on a label, they are just eating a sort of different type of vegetable oil. And that’s basically what the label says. Most nutrition labels don’t say anything about there being any trans fat in the product, and therefore people have no idea what they are actually putting in their bodies. Messed up, right? Yeah, I think so too, but that’s the way it is.
On this random label I found on Google shows, the fat information says that there are no trans fats in the product, but when you actually read the ingredients, you see that there are lots of hydrogenated oils (or in other words, lots of trans fats). So, READ THE INGREDIENTS before you come to the conclusion that there are no harmful fats in the foods that you are eating.
What exactly is the deal with fat?
Here’s what you need to understand about fats. Fat is not just fat. The caloric value doesn’t change depending on the type of fat, but the way that it affects your body does change. Saturated fats clog up the arteries, and unsaturated fats are better able to be broken down by the body.
So what’s different about the oil if is ‘hydrogenated’?
Hydrogenated oil is an artificial fat. It is vegetable oil that has been changed in such a way that it no longer has any of the health benefits of vegetable oil, and is even worse for you than normal saturated fats. This is because it has been pressurized with hydrogen to make it solid (and therefore more preservable, and more useful in processed foods). The hydrogenation process gets rid of all of the essential fatty acids within the vegetable oil and turns it into a fat that acts just like a saturated fat in the body.
Now for the stuff that’s a tiny bit more scientific. The more hydrogen in a fat, the more solid it becomes, and therefore the more it gets stuck in your arteries. Saturated fat has no more room for hydrogen to be added to it, which is why it is solid. (Unsaturated fats have room for at least one more hydrogen to be added to them, depending on the type of unsaturated fat). The basic process of hydrogenation is as follows:
- Vegetable oil is mixed thoroughly with fine particles of nickel or copper.
- It is then heated to a very high temperature (about 200 degrees celsius) and held at that heat for 6 hours.
- Meanwhile, hydrogen gas is pumped through the mixture at high pressure, and then the excited hydrogen atoms penetrate the vegetable oil molecules and chemically change them into ‘transfats’ (‘trans fatty acids’). These are new, complex substances that are not found in nature, except at low levels in some animal fats.
- The mixture is then cooled down to form tiny hard plastic-like beads. These hard beads are known as ‘hydrogenated oil’.
- These beads are then added to other fats and made into the products that we consume on a daily basis.
Sounds pretty unhealthy, doesn’t it? I always feel that if something has been changed and messed with that much, its a bad idea to put it in my body.
So how do i avoid it?
Here’s a basic rule that i follow. If its solid at room temperature, you shouldn’t be cooking with it or putting it in your body. Stick with olive and vegetable oils. They are much easier for your body to break down, and will provide you with the essential fatty acids that your body needs.
If you absolutely have to use either butter or margarine, CHOOSE BUTTER. Margarine may be vegan and vegetable based, but it is harder for the body to break down than butter is. So if you have to choose, go with butter.
Also, READ NUTRITION LABELS. That is the number one most important thing that you can do when eating processed foods. If you know what is in it, you are less likely to binge eat on it, or maybe less likely to eat it at all. It only takes a second, and it is a big investment into your health, and into your future. Avoid anything that says it has hydrogenated oils. There are always other more healthy options when it comes to your favorite snacks. And if you don’t like those other options, think about eating less of those foods that do contain hydrogenated fats.
Alright! If you made it to the end of this, I am proud of you. Hopefully you learned something and you will be more health conscious because of it. :)
Live Long and Prosper,