Hydrogenated Fats: The Trojan Horse of the Food Industry

You all know the story of the Trojan horse. Well, hydrogenated fat has been called the Trojan horse of the food industry.

You all know the story of the Trojan horse. Well, hydrogenated fat has been called the Trojan horse of the food industry.

Hydrogenated fat is solid or semi-solid at room temperatures. It is found in hard and semi-soft margarine and in vegetable shortenings.

These products are then used in processed foods like baked goods, plus, as margarine or spread,  we then use them on our healthiest foods: baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, oatmeal, etc.

Where else do we consume hydrogenated fats?

Judith Shaw in her book Raising Low-Fat Kids in a High-Fat World says these fats are found in almost every processed food in the supermarket from soups to chips, crackers to cookies, pastries to mixes of all kinds, including some pasta and rice mixes.

They are also found in frozen foods like pizza and pot pies and even some cereals. When you order or cook  deep-fried foods such as donuts, French fries, chicken, fish, etc., vegetable (hydrogenated) shortenings are often used to fry them.

Of course, hydrogenated fats are found in margarine as this is  the “stuff” from which margarine is made.

“Oh, well,” you say. “I’ll just go back to eating butter on my toast. That’ll get rid of the hydrogenated fat altogether. Right?”


Even if we eat dry toast, hydrogenated fats are already used in almost every  sliced bread sold at American supermarkets. And… butter has its own problems: saturated fat.

Tip: Spectrum Foods makes a  margarine from non-hydrogenated vegetable oil, the only one I have found.

What is hydrogenated fat?

Shaw  writes, “Hydrogenated oils are fats that have the same capacity to do harm as saturated fats.”

They are saturated-like fats made from plant oils and fats that have been heated and pressure-processed. Hydrogenated fats are created when an oil that is largely unsaturated, such as corn oil, has hydrogen added to it, causing fat to become more solid at room temperature.

During hydrogenation, the unsaturated fat becomes more saturated.  Author Harold McGee in his book On Food and Cooking writes that hydrogenated oils are “artificially saturated.”   0

Shaw continues, “In addition, processed foods made with hydrogenated oils pose another health hazard: trans fatty acids.”

Dr.  Leonard Lopez writes, “The really bad saturated fat is called a trans fatty acid. These are chemically altered (processed) fats. You can find them in most packaged foods listed on the label as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil. Our bodies have a more difficult time with processed foods and would prefer foods in their natural state.” See also Good Fats and Bad Fats

The more solid and hydrogenated the fat, the more trans fatty acids there are in the product. If you would like a more technical explanation: click here.

What do trans fatty acids do to us?

Among other results, researchers have found that trans fatty acids significantly raise LDL cholesterol levels, the bad cholesterol, while lowering the HDL levels, the good cholesterol. In the Framingham Heart Study (a 40 year study covering 5,209 individuals living in Massachusetts) high LDL cholesterol levels combined with low HDL levels was indicative of coronary heart disease risk.

With all this information about cholesterol and heart problems, why does the food industry use hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats in food products?

Plain and simple reason: hydrogenation extends the supermarket shelf life of products.

Dean Ornish, M.D., in his book Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease writes, “Unfortunately, a longer life for the product may mean a shorter life for you.”

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