Partially Hydrogenated Oils And Trans Fat

Partially hydrogenated oils are a type of fat used in many commercial food items. Though we need to consume fat to keep our bodies and minds functioning properly, these particular oils are on the naughty list and should always be avoided.

Have you ever heard the term “trans fat” or seen it listed on a nutrition label? Industrial produced trans fat is the nutrition label synonym for “partially hydrogenated oil”. Companies like to use trans fat in their products because it is cheaper than butter, lard, vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil, and the like. Unfortunately for us, consuming trans fat frequently over time is harmful to the human body; and it can be difficult to determine which foods actually have trans fats. There are some trans fats that naturally occur in the gut of cows, pigs, and lambs. However, the mass use of trans fat in industrialized food production is man-made.

Man-made trans fats are produced by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. This makes the oil more solid and can extend the shelf life and flavor of many foods. Margarine is a prominent example. Companies use partially hydrogenated oil to make a butter-like product that is spreadable right out of the fridge. No more waiting for the butter to reach room temperature. Most peanut butters not labeled as “all natural” or “organic” typically contain partially hydrogenated oils in order to make the product creamy and spreadable. It does not end there, though. Look on the back of most cookie, cracker, condiment, and sauce packages and you are likely to find partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list. This means that most of the food items in your pantry probably contain trans fat.

Consuming trans fat is a problem because it is directly linked to clogged arteries and heart disease. (There may be many other issues associated with trans fat, but we do not yet have the research to prove it.) Even the FDA discourages the consumption of trans fat because it raises our “bad” cholesterol, which increases our risk of heart disease. Due to this health hazard, the FDA requires that companies disclose the amount of trans fat included in their products, so that consumers have the option to select products with no or low trans fat.

Though the FDA has special regulations regarding the labeling of trans fat, there are plenty of loop holes for businesses to slide through in order to limit their disclosure. (What company wants to advertise a product with a public health hazard?) For instance, consider this text from the FDA’s website regarding the labeling requirements for trans fat:

“Trans fat content must be expressed as grams per serving to the nearest 0.5-gram increment below 5 grams and to the nearest gram above 5 grams. If a serving contains less than 0.5 gram, the content, when declared, must be expressed as ‘0 g.'”

Food and Drug Administration

According to this statement, if one serving of crackers contains 0.4 grams of trans fat, a company can declare 0 g on the nutrition label. Rounding rules from fourth grade math class say that 0.4 g should be rounded to 0.5 g; but that is not what the FDA says. This means that if you eat 2 servings of crackers each day, you are consuming 5.6 grams of trans fat each week without knowing it! Think about all the other foods you eat – cookies, bread, peanut butter, pancake mix, spaghetti sauce, canned soup, etc. If all those food packages state that there is 0 g of trans fat in each serving, and you have a few servings of those foods each day, you would ever know that you are actually consuming at least 5 grams of trans fat every single day. That is a lot of trans fat.

Thus, it is imperative that you look to the ingredients list for evidence of trans fat and not rely solely on the nutrition label. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil,” do not purchase or consume the product. This is not something you should gradually change. Stop buying products with trans fat right now. Your short- and long-term health depend on it.

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