Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Partially Hydrogenated Oils are So Last Century

Or so I thought. Even as "0g Trans Fat" has been smacked on the front of many packages to help us feel less guilty about eating processed foods, some prominent brands still haven't switched to healthier ingredients. As a former longtime Girl Scout (and Samoas® lover), I am looking forward to the year when this great organization announces they have eliminated partially hydrogenated oils from their famous cookies (http://www.girlscoutcookies.org/).

After all, it's been years since the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who took 2% of their energy intake from trans fats had a 70% greater risk of infertility through lack of ovulation (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-430111/Food-fats-threaten-womens-fertility.html). If anyone should be crying out against the use of partially hydrogenated oils in our foods, why not the Girl Scouts in their dedication to the development of our future women?

Infertility/PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is the newest addition to the long list of health problems trans fat diets cause, including: increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, "bad" cholesterol), decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL - "good" cholesterol), hardened arteries, and inflammation/overactivity of the immune system that can result in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. What's more, Leo Galland's Superimmunity for Kids explains how the absorption of essential fatty acids (EFAs) -- which are aptly named because we cannot be healthy without them -- is actually impeded by consumption of partially hydrogenated oils.

Still wondering what partially hydrogenated oils are? Bantransfats.com says it best: "Partial hydrogenation is an industrial process used to make a perfectly good oil, such as soybean oil, into a perfectly bad oil." They are used in commercial products such as cookies, cakes, crackers, bread, candy, chocolate and chips, and as cooking oils (called "liquid shortening") for frying in restaurants.

If you're asking yourself, "why the heck does anyone STILL put this stuff in our food?", Harvard's School of Public Health's Nutrition Source has the answer: 1. Partially hydrogenated oils don't spoil as easily, 2. They can be repeatedly reheated without breaking down, 3. They can be transported more easily, oh yes, and 4. They are a lot cheaper than solid animal fats. Sing it:

Sadly, the FDA actually allows a company to legally call a product "trans fat free" so long as it has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, so the only way to be sure you are not eating trans fats, is to make sure the product's ingredients do not list "partially hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated" oils.

If you are a fast-food eater, you can find out which oils each chain uses at Bantransfat.com's Eateries page. Better yet, skip the junk food or find alternatives made from whole ingredients. And be well!

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