On the latest edition of the Ask Prof Noakes Podcast, we chat about transfats. What is hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil and most importantly is hydrogenated oil bad for you and why you should avoid them on the LCHF diet?
In the early 1900s, American company Proctor & Gamble moved from mostly dealing in soaps and candles to producing food products. This came with the launch of Crisco, the first shortening (margarine) to be made entirely of vegetable oil, in June 1911.
Hydrogenation of organic substances in gas form was discovered by Paul Sabatier in the late 19th century and while in liquid form was patented by Wilhelm Normann in 1903. Procter & Gamble’s business manager John Burchenal was contacted and hired by chemist Edwin C. Kayser (who had acquired Normann’s patent so as to produce soap), who patented two processes to hydrogenate cottonseed oil, which ensures the fat remains solid at normal storage temperatures. Their initial intent had been to completely harden oils for use as raw material for making soap.
Hydrogenated Oil – Where it all started
So in 1911 you now have something that was intended to be used in soap, now being used as the basis for a new edible invention, margarine. It was marketed throughout the United States as a substitute to butter or lard. Its widespread use gathered pace after research suggesting that the fat content in butter and ghee was bad for you. It was sold as a healthier alternative.
The belief behind this was sparked by Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries Study which looked for a reason for the increasing number of people with cardio-vascular disease in the United States. As a result of his research the American government after 1956 recommended people adopt a low fat diet. This prompted a massive increase in the use of vegetable oil products.
This has caused major division in the industry ever since, with many people having attempted to refute these claims. Modern research has been proven to show that it is not saturated fat but carbohydrates which lead to many of the dietary related diseases known to man. The likes of the LCHF diet and its current popularity is a testament to the findings of this research. The fat to be wary of though, is your transfats or unsaturated fats.
While full hydrogenation produces largely saturated fatty acids, partial hydrogenation results in the transformation of unsaturated cis fatty acids to trans fatty acids in the oil mixture due to the heat used in hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oils and their trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD), among other increased health risks.
The risk Hydrogenated oil poses
In the 1970s, Edward Ahrens Jr, a distinguished pioneer in lipid research, along with Margaret Albrink found that triglycerides mattered in coronary disease more than total cholesterol, and came to think that carbohydrates cause heart disease and not fats. Despite this knowledge, only recently have we come to realise that hydrogenated polyunsaturated fats are really bad for us.
These are present in margarines and shortening as well as oils, and are now well documented to increase your risk of cancer and heart disease. It’s not only the trans fats found in polyunsaturated vegetable oils that should be completely avoided, but the whole shebang.