Hydrogenation, the creation of trans fat

    The US government released in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, ”Consume 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.

Also in this release: “Because trans fatty acids produced in the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils account for more than 80 percent of total intake, the food industry has an important role in decreasing trans fatty acid content of the food supply.

This node is an argument against the use of trans fat by (partial) hydrogenation. You can find trans fat on labels directly under saturated fat. The node on trans fat is very resourceful and I highly recommend you read it before reading this node so you have a basis of knowledge before reading my arguments. I came upon trans fat when writing the node triglyceride, and was shocked to find out about the unawareness of the dangers behind trans fat. Thus I composed this node, hydrogenation. For clarification on standpoints, factual analysis on nutrition is a new science, and still could be called a “relative science.” It could be said that trans fat is the worse of the two evils, its partner and lesser evil being saturated fat. Although fat is a normal part of any diet, in fact the AMDR Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range recommends consuming 20-35% of total Calories from fat, less than 10% of total Calories should come from saturated fat, and many sources exclaim to only consume less than two grams from trans fat a day. If the (AHA) American Heart Association recommends that you limit saturated fat to about 15 to 19 grams per day and trans fat is extremely similar to saturated fat, and one 3-piece KFC combo meal contains 15 grams of trans fat, there are some seriously “fat issues” in fast food. “One of the reasons that partially hydrogenated oils are used is to increase the product's shelf life,” you read such information is the trans fat node, what you don’t know is this, “but they decrease YOUR shelf life.” (Bantransfat caps added along with analysis outside quotation) “When liquid oils are partially hydrogenated to form solid margarines and shortenings, trans isomers of fatty acids are formed. In countries such as the United States and the Netherlands, trans fatty acids (TFAs) constitute 4% to 7% of dietary fat intake.” (AHA Journal)

The real comparison of Butter versus Margarine
From a FDA comparison, you can compare butter, margarine sticks, and margarine tubs, for their levels in saturated and trans fat along with cholesterol daily values (DV). The FDA declared this “an example comparison of average labels that do not represent one particular brand or product.”

Saturated Fat : 7g
+ Trans Fat : 0g
Combined Amt.: 7g
Cholesterol: 10 % DV

Stick Margarine
Saturated Fat : 2g
+ Trans Fat : 3g
Cholesterol: 0 % DV
Combined Amt.: 5g

Tub Margarine Saturated Fat : 1 g
+ Trans Fat : 0.5g
Combined Amt.: 1.5g
Cholesterol: 0 % DV

For a better look at the label go to: FDA trans fat
*Nutrient values rounded based on FDA's nutrition labeling regulations. Calorie and cholesterol content estimated.
**Butter values from FDA Table of Trans Values, 1/30/95.
† Values derived from 2002 USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15.

    As you can see, there is more saturated fat in butter than both trans fat and saturated fat in margarine. To be fair, we will also need to look at an item where trans fat is higher than saturated fat. Such an item would be a cake, iced and filled:
  • Saturated Fat : 3.5g
  • + Trans Fat : 4.5g
  • Combined Amt.: 8 g
  • The argument though is not buy the product with the least amount of combined fat (trans + saturated). The argument is that any amounts of trans fat is less desirable than even moderately high levels of saturated fat. Based on no scientific evidence whatsoever I would throw out the number projection of 3-5 grams of saturated fats has the same negative affects of 1 gram of trans fat. My reasoning though is that because trans fat lowers good levels of cholesterol, is man-made and hardly ever naturally found, has at least a 1/3 increase of heart related problems to its counter part saturated fat. You can find these details throughout the node and its sources. “What the medical establishment is saying, however, is that they made a big, deadly mistake when they said we should switch from butter to margarine. Now, half a century later, after untold thousands or millions of us died prematurely, they admit that the trans fat in most (but not all) margarines is even worse that the saturated fat in butter. It’s not that saturated fat is good for us, but rather that no amount of trans fat is.” (Mendosa)

  • Trans fat is now included on nutritional labels as of January 1, 2006.
    • This has been mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
    • Saturated fat has only been labeled since 1993
      • Denmark started requiring reduced trans fat levels in the food supply in 2003. Interesting how Europe is ahead of the US on protection policies seemingly across the board. (Genetically Modified food reductions, labels, etc)
      • On August 2, 2006, three big British supermarket chains, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda, announced that they will eliminate partially hydrogenated oils from the own-brand products by the end of 2006. Marks & Spencer has already stopped using partially hydrogenated oil in its food production. Waitrose has been removing partially hydrogenated oils from its foods since the beginning of 2004.
      • New York City, Boston, and Chicago all have programs in place or building to reduce trans fat in restaurants. NY city has already achieved a 30% reduction.
  • 40 percent of all the food products that you can buy in a supermarket contain trans fat.
    • The FDA says that trans fat is in 95 percent of cookies, 80 percent of frozen breakfast foods, 75 percent of salty snacks and chips, 70 percent of cake mixes, and almost half of all cereals.
    • Trans fat increased the risk of type 2 diabetes among the 80,000 women studied by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. No correlation was found with SFA MUFA PUFA types of fat.
    • Consumption of trans fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)
      • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health states over 12.5 million Americans suffer from CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year.
      • Linkage: CHD is a leading cause of death today in the United States, trans fat is part of this cause
        • Top nutritionists at Harvard have stated as follows:
        • On a broad scope trans fat effects: "By our most conservative estimate, replacement of partially hydrogenated fat in the U.S. diet with natural unhydrogenated vegetable oils would prevent approximately 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year, and epidemiologic evidence suggests this number is closer to 100,000 premature deaths annually."
      • Trans fat lowers (HDL) cholesterol. Research shows it is probably through effects on lipoproteins. Studies have concentrated on the endothelial function a surrogate cardiovascular end point.
        • Higher levels of trans isomers of linoleic acid were associated with a three-fold increase in risk of cardiac arrest (AHA Journal #2)

Trans fats cause significant and serious lowering of HDL (good) cholesterol and a significant and serious increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol; make the arteries more rigid; cause major clogging of arteries; cause insulin resistance; cause or contribute to type 2 diabetes; and cause or contribute to other serious health problems. (Ban trans fat) It is also important to note that some, if not all, of these are also contributed to by saturated fat consumption. The point though is that trans fat contributes far more than saturated fat. “On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of coronary heart disease more than any other macronutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk at low levels of consumption (1 to 3 percent of total energy intake). In a meta-analysis of four prospective cohort studies involving nearly 140,000 subjects, including updated analyses from the two largest studies, a 2 percent increase in energy intake from trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 percent increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease.” (April 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM content) Another study found that the ability of the blood vessels to dilate was 29 percent lower in people who ate the high trans fat diet compared those on the saturated fat diet. Blood levels of HDL cholesterol were 21 percent lower in the high trans fat group compared to the high saturated fat group. (De Roos, Bots and Katan AHA journal #3)

A farfetched monkey story
"Monkeys fed a diet containing trans fat, a mostly man-made fat found in shortening and margarine, gained 5% more body weight than a group of monkeys fed a diet identical in every respect except for the substitution of monounsaturated fat, a healthy kind of fat found in olive oil. The monkeys gained the excess body weight primarily in their abdomen. Saturated fat, a natural fat similar in many respects to trans fat, was not included in the study. The researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center conducted the study over a period of six years.” If only they had compared trans fat to saturated fat in the study...

The bad health affects of trans fat summary:

    First, the main problems
  • Causes type 2 diabetes
  • Lowers good cholesterol (HDL) by 20%
  • Causes blood cells to dilate 29% less effectively
    1. Other Reported Effects of Trans Fatty Acids that May be Detrimental to Health
    2. Increases blood insulin levels in humans in response to glucose load
    3. Affects immune response
    4. Decreases the response of the red blood cell to insulin
    5. Inhibits the function of membrane-related enzymes
    6. Causes alterations in physiological properties of biological membranes
    7. Causes alterations in adipose cell size, cell number, lipid class, and fatty acid composition

Restaurants and “Fast Food”:
You may not have seen the anti McDonald's movie Super Size Me, but you may want to. Possibly the highest trans fat content in the industry can be found at McDonald's and KFC. One large French fries contains 8 grams. A baked apple pie contains 4.5 grams. KFC's Chicken Pot Pie contains 14 grams of trans fat. A typical 3-piece KFC Extra Crispy combo meal, with a drumstick, two thighs, potato wedges, and a biscuit contains 15 grams of trans fat. A large KFC Popcorn Chicken contains 7 grams of trans fat. It is not surprising then that there is a major lawsuit against KFC started on June 13, 2006 by a Maryland doctor demanding KFC to tell its customers of the high amounts of trans fat on its labels. Four Girl Scout shortbread cookies contain 1.5 grams of trans fat. McDonald’s claimed it would lower its trans fat levels in 2002. They just paid out a $7 million dollar settlement to the AHA in 2005...

Most fast food restaurants and restaurants that use partially hydrogenated oil or products with “higher shelf life” have a high content of trans fat. You likely don’t call hotlines or owners of restaurants for nutritional information, don’t eat anything you can’t read the label for or are willing to find out this information for your own safety. If you just can’t give up your fast food eating habits, at least consider this: Wendy’s no longer use partially hydrogenated oils, it has completed a switch to a new cooking oil that significantly cuts trans fats in all their foods. So McDonald’s large fry has 8 grams of trans fat, Wendy’s now has only .5 grams of trans fat. (Huge difference!?!) Wendy’s chicken sandwich now has 0 grams of trans fat. Wendy's reduced trans fat in chicken and fries by an average of 95 percent! And are even looking into getting rid of the rest of it through their french fry suppliers via the par frying process at their facilities. This also means a 20 percent reduction in saturated fats in the breaded chicken items and French fries.(Full press release at Yahoo news) Ruby’s Tuesday has also rid themselves of partially hydrogenated oils and now use canola oil.

    Reducing trans fat consumption based upon www.bantransfats.com
  1. Don't eat any product which has the words "partially hydrogenated" or "shortening" in the ingredients list.
    • Note: Fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fat. However, if the word "hydrogenated" is used without the word "partially," that product may contain partially hydrogenated oil. Not all labeling is accurate and the word "partially" may have been wrongfully omitted on some products. Interesting!
  2. If the label says zero trans fats, don't believe it. If the words "partially hydrogenated" or "shortening" are in the ingredients list, it DOES contain trans fat.
    • Under FDA regulations in effect in the United States, "if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram of trans fat, the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero." Suppose a product contains 0.4 grams per serving and you eat four servings... You have just consumed 1.6 grams of trans fat, despite the fact that the package claims that the product contains zero grams of trans fat per serving.
  3. Labels from outside the United States do not necessarily have trans fat in their nutrition label.
  4. Ask restaurants if they cook with partially hydrogenated oils. Remember vegetable oils can fall under this category.
  5. Keep saturated fat intake low too.
  6. Remember that polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fats are good fats.

Hope is not too far away...
“Now that we have the Institute of Medicine report, we will go ahead and write a final rule on trans fatty acid,” the FDA spokesperson says. “We expect that we will issue it early next year. (2007 projected year, Mendosa #2)

I thought over a couple of hours whether this article should reside under the home of “trans fat” or under the home of “hydrogenation.” Although trans fat is the outcome of the evil, I chose the latter because it is the root of the problem. Labels can still claim 0 trans fat but can still be partially hydrogenated. I’m sure some of you would argue otherwise and I do encourage feedback in this regard.

Hy`dro*gen*a"tion (?), n. Chem.

The act of combining with hydrogen, or the state of being so combined.


© Webster 1913.

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