What is hydrogenated oil?
Food companies have started using hydrogenated oil to increase shelf life and reduce costs. Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is transformed into a solid fat by the addition of hydrogen.
Food manufacturers use hydrogenated oils to:
– to save money
– extend shelf life
– add texture
– increase stability
When producing a hydrogenated oil, a type of fat called trans fat is made. “Partially hydrogenated” oils contain trans fats in the final product. Small amounts of trans fats also occur naturally in some foods. Partially hydrogenated oils can harm heart health because they increase “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) and decrease “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).
Unlike partially hydrogenated oils, fully hydrogenated oils contain very little trans fat, especially saturated fat, and do not carry the same health risks as trans fat. Fully hydrogenated oils are still allowed in manufactured foods. Note that on a food label you will usually see just “hydrogenated oil”, not “fully hydrogenated oil”. Some people choose to avoid fully hydrogenated fats because they have been modified by industrial processes.
If you are trying to reduce your saturated fat intake, then you can avoid this ingredient. Hydrogenated oil isn’t always easy to spot, but there are ways to find it and avoid it.
1. Know Common Culprits
Hydrogenated oils are most commonly found in ultra-processed foods that also contain saturated fats, such as:
2. Read Food Labels Carefully
If you want to find hydrogenated oils, it’s important to read both the food label and the ingredient list. Check for the word “hydrogenated”, for example “hydrogenated soybean oil”. Due to the risks associated with trans fats, it is best to avoid any food product that contains partially hydrogenated oil. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list, for example “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”. Just because a product is labeled as free from trans fats does not necessarily mean that it contains none at all.
3. Use vegetable oils for cooking
Margarine is easy to use for cooking, but it usually contains hydrogenated oils. Instead, opt for heart-healthy carrier oils, such as safflower, olive, or avocado oil. Liquid vegetable oils are the best choice for your cardiovascular health. A 2011 study showed that safflower oil can improve blood sugar and blood lipids and decrease inflammation. Olive oil and avocado oil have also been shown to be heart-healthy oils. Consider baking or broiling your food instead of frying it if you want to save fat and calories.
4. Limit packaged foods
Partially hydrogenated oils go hand in hand with food preservation, so hydrogenated fats are often found in packaged foods. Reduce your dependence on packaged foods. Start by eliminating one food group at a time. For example, cook your own rice or potatoes from scratch instead of relying on seasoned, packaged versions.
5. Rearrange your snacks
Snacks can be an important part of a balanced diet. They can sustain you until the next meal, keep you from getting too hungry, and prevent blood sugar drops. The problem is that many convenient snacks are made with hydrogenated oil.
Opt for more filling, whole-food snacks, such as:
– mixed nuts
– carrot sticks
– apple slices
– natural yogurt
Don’t forget to check the labels of packaged products that you might eat with these snacks, such as hummus, and flavored yogurt.
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