Are Fully Hydrogenated Oils Trans Fats?

Are fully hydrogenated oils considered trans fat?

The answer is: No!

I was walking down the supermarket isles a couple of months back and a food label caught my eye.

It was for Crisco Shortening Sticks. The label boldly stated “NO TRANS FATS”. I had always understood that hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils were trans fats. I also knew that Crisco was vegetable oil that had been altered to remain a solid at room temperature.

I read the ingredients on the nutritional label and there it was: Sunflower oil, soybean oil, fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil, mono and diglycerides.

Confused by what I understood to be true and what Crisco was declaring on their label, I contacted their customer relations department after confirming this information on their website. I was contacted by a representative who verified the information I had read on the website. She told me that fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fats. The chemical structure of the molecule is different from partially hydrogenated oils.

Not completely satisfied, I contacted The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Their website provided this information on hydrogenated oil:

Q: What is trans fat?
A: Most trans fat is a monounsaturated (one double bond) fatty acid. The shape of trans fat molecules is more like cholesterol-raising saturated fat than a typical monounsaturated fatty acid. Perhaps for that reason, it increases cholesterol levels in blood and increases the risk of heart disease.

Q: How is partially hydrogenated oil made?
A: To convert soybean, cottonseed, or other liquid oil into a solid shortening, the oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen and a catalyst. That hydrogenation process converts some polyunsaturated fatty acids to monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids. It also converts some monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids. Thus, a healthful oil is converted to the ‘trans’ form. The term ‘trans’ comes from the fact that two parts of fatty acid molecules are on opposite sides of the double bonds. In the usual ‘cis’ fatty acids, the two parts are on the same side of the double bonds. The degree of hydrogenation determines how solid the final product will be and how much of the different fatty acids it will contain.

Q: Are FULLY hydrogenated oils even worse than partially hydrogenated oils?
A: No. Surprisingly, fully hydrogenated oils appear to be innocuous. In the case of fully hydrogenated soybean oil, the hydrogenation process increases the amount of saturated fat, but most of that fat is stearic acid. Stearic acid does not raise ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels, because the body converts it quickly to monounsaturated oleic acid (the characteristic fatty acid in olive oil).

(see the full press release)

The USDA has advised that you should restrict your consumption of trans fats to 2 grams or less a day.Trans fats have been proven to cause a multitude of hazardous side effects .

The problem I see with fully hydrogenated oils is that:

  1. The process does not assure that all the oil will be fully hydrogenated, therefore allowing for some amount of partially hydrogenated oils to be included in the hydrogenated product.
  2. Some of the metal catalyst remains in the product after the hydrogenation process.
  3. Depending on your faith in the manufacturing of oils in general, you might be concerned about the use of cottonseed and canola oil.

I have read numerous accounts about safe and unsafe oils. Some articles state that canola oil, derived from the rape seed, was first approved as a machine oil, is toxic to humans and should be avoided at all costs. Counterpoints argue that canola oil produced today is ultra refined and has been approved for human consumption. Other articles I have read state that cottonseed oil should be avoided at all costs, because cotton is not a consumable crop, therefore there are no restrictions on the use of pesticides. The seeds absorb the pesticides and therefore the pesticides are passed onto the oil we consume.

Bottom line: You can decide if you should be overly concerned about the hydrogenation process, the quality and type of oils used, and what you ultimately put into your bodies

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