When we read words like, "partially hydrogenated oil" on food labels the first thing we should think of is heart disease. But we don’t.
It is required of manufacturers that they list the ingredients of each product on the labels. But if we don’t understand the ingredients it does us little good. This is one of those times when what you and I don’t know can hurt us.
Let's look together at what hydrogenation is and why manufactures use it. These are the points we will cover.
We created the hydrogenation process. We applied it to food processing. Why? What problems were we trying to solve? The whole thing started out with good intentions. But now we know that…
We have known for a long time that saturated fats are bad for heart health.
In the 1950s it was discovered that vegetable oils could be substituted for lard or other saturated fats. One very practical application to this discovery is the use of margarine in place of butter. But using vegetable oils in place of saturated oils presented us with a few problems.
The solution must have seemed like an epiphany. All of these problems could be solved by one miraculous process… hydrogenation. Why not use hydrogenated oil?
What is this miracle of science? What is hydrogenation?
To understand this process it is first helpful to ask…
Here’s a question for you…
Are you sick and tired of just not
Are there health issues – in addition to your heart health – that concern you? Like…
Anxiety? Or not sleeping well? Or joint pain? Or low energy? Or poor digestion? Or weight gain? Or stress? Why do so many people suffer from these symptoms and others? Those nagging health issues that seem so difficult to define.
Did you know that these health problems – as well as more serious chronic diseases – can be the result of …
Many people have come to realize this and have made changes to recapture their health. We have a great – FREE – resource we want you to have. Simply click the link below.
Hydrogenation – when applied to food – is a process whereby we convert one type of fat into another. So what is a fat?
Fats are molecule chains of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen
(O) atoms. At one end of the chain is what is called a carboxyl group.
It consists of one carbon atom, one hydrogen atom, and two oxygen atoms.
Chemically it is written like this: (COOH).
Carbon atoms have four electrons. Each of these electrons can form a bond with an electron of another atom. Sometimes two carbon atoms will get together and form two bonds between them. This is called a double bond. When carbon atoms form double bonds they use electrons that might otherwise have been shared with hydrogen atoms. That means the fat molecule does not have as much hydrogen as it possibly could. It is then not saturated with hydrogen. It is an unsaturated oil or fat.
When a fat molecule has one double carbon bond it is called a monounsaturated fatty acid. When it has more than one double carbon bond it is a polyunsaturated fatty acid.
Clear as mud? Maybe a couple of pictures will help.
In the illustration above the molecule structure shown is "saturated" - like many animal fats. Every carbon bond is a single bond. The molecule is saturated with as much hydrogen as it can hold. Everything is packed closely together resulting in a fat that is solid at room temperature.
The fat structure shown below is unsaturated since at least one carbon pair is double bonded. These bonds are angled causing bends in the chain.
Also, not as many hydrogen atoms can be a part of the structure since some of the carbon electrons are otherwise engaged. This "looser" structure causes the fat to be liquid at room temperature as is the case with many vegetable oils.
Well all this is very interesting but…
I am glad you asked. I was just getting to that.
Everything centers on the double carbon bonds. They are – generally speaking – good for heart health. But they are relatively unstable. To make an unsaturated oil look and act like a saturated we must get rid of some of these pesky double bonds. We must add some hydrogen.
To do this we break some of the double bonds by applying high heat. The broken bonds are now free to form attachments with hydrogen atoms.
It is all rather romantic.
Notice the simple compound on the left has one double carbon bond.
(The bend in the chain is not shown.) Hydrogenation - which involves a
metal catalyst or heating or both - breaks the carbon bonds in the
presence of hydrogen. The unbounded electrons now bind to the electrons
of the hydrogen atoms resulting in the right side of the illustration.
If the hydrogenation process were pushed to completion then we would end up with a saturated end product where no double bonds existed. In other words it would be a fully hydrogenated oil.
You can see the problem with this. We end up with a saturated fat which is the very thing we were trying to avoid in the first place. Also the product would be too hard or waxy to be of good commercial use.
To avoid this we discontinue the process when the level of hydrogen saturation suits us. We then have a partially hydrogenated oil. Enough hydrogen is added to create a partially solid product - like margarine.
But we avoid making a saturated product like butter. Everybody is happy. The consumer can feel confident about eating to good heart health and the manufacturer can sell its product and advertise with a clear conscience.
Unfortunately there is a side-effect.
The high temperatures and the catalyst used to create partially hydrogenated oil weaken the double bonds between the carbon atoms. As a result a large percentage of the natural Cis double bonds are changed to Trans double bonds. There is still some double carbon bonds left. But now they are of a different structure.
Notice the next illustration. This naturally occurring unsaturated fat has a single double CIS bond. Notice both hydrogen atoms are on the same side of the chain. As a result the chain has a nice bend in it.
However, in the illustration below you will notice a change in the way the hydrogen atom attaches to the carbon atom. It is still an unsaturated fat. But it is different. The hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the molecule chain. Also the chain is also straighter.
So we see a difference. What does all this have to do with heart health? In other words…
Most of us are not familiar with the term 'cis'. Well… at least we weren’t before today. But we are familiar with the word 'trans'. The word 'trans' of course implies that two things are across or opposite each other.
Remember the original problem scientists in the 1950s were trying to solve. They were trying to make a substitute for saturated fats by starting with healthier polyunsaturated fats. They simply added some hydrogen. The end product was still unsaturated. It had to be healthier that saturated fats.
It was a great theory. Unfortunately it was a bad conclusion.
The unsaturated fats created with trans-bonds have become known as trans-fatty acids or trans-fats. We are familiar with these. And you and I both know they present a major heart health issue.
So read your labels. You probably won’t find many manufacturers
proudly listing trans-fats among their ingredients. But you will find a
long list of partially hydrogenated oils on many packages. Whenever you
see the phrase 'partially hydrogenated oil' a shiver should go up your
spine. They might as well print...
"Eat at your own risk."
Hydrogenated oil is one of the many reasons that a heart healthy diet is so important. Here are two resources you will want to have as you strive to improve your diet. The first is the Intentional Diet Guide.
If you feel brave you can jump to the 30-Day Challenge which is designed to quickly get you on the right road to heart healthy eating.
Either way... Bon Appetit.
A Challenge For You!
People are making great improvements in their heart health.
How... are they doing it? By challenging themselves to change the way they eat. Really!
I have a challenge for you. It is my double dog dare.