There’s been a lot of publicity in recent times about healthy oils that will help you to lose weight, enhance your cardiovascular health and boost your immunity. But, there are other fats that have the opposite effect, putting us on a path to obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 Diabetes. Many people are confused about which fats are good and which are poisonous to the body.
In this article, we identify the vegetable oils that are ruinous to our health. We’ll discover just how they are robbing us of our well-being and what practical steps we can take to avoid their ill effects.
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
The oils that are ruining our health are known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. This is the type of fat that is found in the majority of the packaged food that you find at your local supermarket. This man-made fat has the same nine calories as natural fat, but that is where the similarity ends.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contain trans fatty acids (TFAs). In 2010, the US Institute of Medicine declared that TFAs are a serious danger to the cardiac health of the American people, with a ‘tolerable upper intake level of zero’.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil was first used in the early 1900s as a substitute for beef fat and skim milk. It proved to be far less expensive, cleaner looking and smelling and longer lasting. As a result, it became the ideal cooking substitute.
The problem is that this product is completely artificial, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the original, natural vegetable oil that is its raw product. The first step in the manufacture of hydrogenated vegetable oil is to crush the soybeans, sunflower, canola or safflower seeds to produce the pure oil. The oil is then prepared for hydrogenation by bleaching and with chemical agents. It is here that the destruction of the natural product begins.
Next, a small amount of metal catalyst is added to the oil. Hydrogen gas is then added under very high pressure and extremely high heat. In the process, the chemical structure of the oil is changed. A substance is created that is plastic and thicker than thicker and can hold a shape. In fact, it is no longer an oil at all. This new product is solid at room temperature and resembles hardened chicken fat.
Food manufacturers love hydrogenated vegetable oil because it is inexpensive, flavorless and has a long shelf life. It gives fast food like French Fries their crisp taste. It also allows cooking oil in fast food restaurants to be used over and over again. It also makes it unnecessary to refrigerate many salads and salad dressings.
What TFA’s Are Doing to Your Body
All partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contain the by-product trans fatty acids. TFAs take up cell space in the body, creating a surplus of the wrong kinds of fatty acids in the body. As our cells continue to be overtaken by TFA’s they become less efficient at doing their job, severely impacting our ability to maintain optimum health.
TFA’s fool your cells. Because they masquerade as natural fatty acids, the cells don’t reject them as aliens. When these fake fatty acids fill the cell they disrupt the normal metabolism of the cell and disrupt vital exchanges between cells.
Manufactured TFA’s have also been shown to increase the levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood while lowering the levels of good HDL cholesterol. TFAs may also upset the balance of arterial cell behavior, resulting in soft, weakened and stiff arteries.
TFAs can be passed from a pregnant woman’s placenta to her unborn child. This will adversely affect the unborn child’s metabolism. What’s more, lactating mothers who consume large amounts of TFAs will have less cream in their breast milk. This is because the TFAs take up space in the cell that is normally reserved for fatty acids.
Diets that are high in manufactured TFA’s greatly increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. The Harvard University 20-year Nurses’ Study 1 and ll, along with the Professionals Follow Up Study – with a combined cohort of over 300,000 people – showed that nurses who consumed the most TFAs had a distinctly higher risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
TFAs have also even shown to inhibit the absorption of Vitamin K into bones. Vitamin K is essential for bone strength and health.
TFA’s and Heart Health
The effect of TFA poisoning is cumulative. There is no immediate reaction and this can easily lull people into a sense of complacency. But that is a major mistake. The effects of taking TFAs into your body will build up and cause you major health problems down the line.
For more than twenty years, researchers at Harvard School of Medicine have spent a lot of money on three key studies to investigate the link between TFAs and heart disease. These studies demonstrate clearly that people who eat foods with the most partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are most likely to develop heart disease.
Dr. Walter Willet of the Harvard University School of Public Health estimated that the elimination of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from the American diet would prevent at least 30,000 deaths from heart disease and possibly as many as 100,000 additional related vascular deaths every year.
In 2002, the American Heart Association Conference on Dietary Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Health released a statement which stated that . . .
Based on a large body of evidence it is apparent that the optimal diet for reducing the risk of chronic disease is one in which . . . trans fatty acids [TFAs] from manufactured fats are virtually eliminated.
Ridding your Body of TFAs
The good news about TFA’s and your body is that once you identify the foods that contain TFA’s and eliminate them from your diet, your body will gradually get rid of the TFAs that have built up in your cells. Then the spaces in your cells that were filled with partially hydrogenated fatty acids will be replaced by healthy fatty acids.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and therefore, trans fatty acids, are not necessary for healthy eating. As we’ve already seen, they are, in fact, hugely damaging to your health. Your first line of defense in getting them out of your life is to become a label reader.
On July 9th, 2003, the US FDA announced that it was requiring all food processors to indicate on their food label whether the product contained partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. This requirement puts the responsibility on you, the end consumer, to read the label.
If you see the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ on the label then you know that it contains TFAs. It doesn’t matter if the partially hydrogenated oil is sunflower, soy, safflower, canola, palm, cottonseed or corn. One hydrogenated oil is not better than the other – they are all equally bad!
If you see the words ‘mono hydrogenated margarine’, ‘vegetable shortening’ or just ‘shortening’, don’t be fooled. They are all just different ways of saying hydrogenated vegetable oil.
You may even find a product that lists one of the above and yet also states ‘No TFAs’. How can that be? Well, the FDA has stated that a product that contains less than half a gram of TFA per serving to be advertised as TFA free. However, you’ll recall that the US Institute of Medicine has stated that there is no safe intake level for TFAs.
As well as stopping new foods containing TFAs from coming into your home, you should also go through your pantry. Any products that you find with the words partially hydrogenated vegetable (followed by any type of seed or bean) listed needs to be confined to the garbage bin.
Packaging food companies are notoriously adept at misleading the public. Their job is to go as far as they can within the bounds of the FDA guidelines to get you to buy their product. Your job is to protect the health and well-being of your family. So, if you see any of the following on the package, you need to be smart enough to question it and look deeper . . .
- Trans Free
- TFA Free
- No Cholesterol
- Low Cholesterol
If you see the word ‘shortening’, you can be sure that the product will contain TFAs, despite what the packaging may proclaim.
TFA Free Shopping Tips
By now, you may be wondering what you can eat once you’ve eliminated TFA containing foods from your diet. The fact is that there are a plethora of delicious, healthy food options that won’t put your health in danger. The following are all TFA free
- All fruits
- All vegetables
- Fresh meat
- Fresh fish
- Cheese that is not processed with hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Uncooked grain
- Uncooked pasta
- Raw nuts
- Dried fruits
Here are a dozen tips to help you to walk out of the supermarket with a TFA free trolley’s worth of food . . .
- Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach.
- Shop with a friend who is also going TFA free
- If you need to, take reading glasses so you can see the label fine print
- Replace smooth peanut butter that has hydrogenated vegetable oil added to it with a creamy peanut butter that doesn’t contain TFAs.
- One of America’s favorite cookies, Oreos, are TFA free
- Many pretzels do not contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, but some of them do not. So, don’t trust a brand name just because one of its products is TFA free – check everything!
- You should be able to find a number of granola, cracker, cereal, candy bars and soup products that do not contain hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Most of Hershey’s chocolates do not contain TFAs.
- A lot of products that are marketed as being ‘healthy’ do contain TFAs, much as nutrition and muesli bars.
- The frozen food section of your supermarket is filled with TFA containing products. Even those frozen veggies that you thought were a healthy as fresh ones contain them!
- Many bakery products are made from flour containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
- All canned fish is TFA free.
- Salad dressings may be very high in fat but a great deal of them contain TFAs.
- Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and juices are all TFA free.
- Involve your friends and family in the search.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are a genuine risk to your health. The TFAs that they contain will take you down a road that you do not want to go down. Mindlessly throwing food into your shopping trolley is a lot easier than stopping to read the labels. But, remember, we’re talking about the well being of your loved ones. Taking the effort required to remove hydrogenated vegetable oils from your life is something that you will never regret.