With the ever-emergent, transient, and often contradictory nature of health trends, it is difficult to determine which food products are actually
harmful to one’s health.
However, in the arena of fleeting nutritional crazes, there is at least one constant: partially hydrogenated oils are bad for you.
In fact, partially hydrogenated oils have been compared to cigarettes concerning the health risk involved.
While most consumers have heard of the label “partially hydrogenated” to describe the vegetable and animal oils used for food preparation and preservation, most of these consumers lack proper knowledge of the formation of partially hydrogenated oils and their detrimental effects on cardiovascular health.
What are Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
Partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, are vegetable oils that have undergone a chemical process called hydrogenation. This process involves adding hydrogen atoms to the oil molecules, which makes the oil more solid and stable at room temperature. PHOs are commonly used in the food industry as an ingredient in products such as margarine, fried foods, and baked goods.
During this process, hydrogenation transforms unsaturated fatty acids into saturated fatty acids. While there have been differing reports on the health impacts of fully hydrogenated oils, the consensus is that these oils are rather harmless, especially compared to the oils produced by partial hydrogenation.
The partial hydrogenation of oils commonly results in trans fats, artificially created unsaturated fats that are detrimental to coronary health and considered by doctors to be the worst type of fat.
Whereas the process of full hydrogenation converts all of the oil’s fatty acids from trans fat into saturated fatty acids, food processors commonly use partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats in their products.
The partial hydrogenation of oils prolongs the shelf life of processed food while also making the oils more stable and raising their melting points, allowing for efficient methods of food processing that use high temperatures.
Accordingly, companies often use partially hydrogenated oils as opposed to fully hydrogenated oils because trans fats are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time, resulting in greater economic benefit.
However, as these companies seek larger profits, the health of the American public declines.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils Health Risks
One of the main health risks associated with PHOs is their high content of trans fats. Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that is created during the hydrogenation process.
Negative effects on cholesterol levels and heart health
When consumed in large amounts, trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease by raising LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Increased risk of type 2 diabetes and other health problems
In addition to their negative effects on heart health, PHOs have also been linked to an increased risk of other health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. Some studies have suggested that PHOs may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Other research has found that PHOs may contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Some research has suggested that the consumption of PHOs may contribute to inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a natural immune response that helps to protect the body from harm. Still, chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Some studies have found that high levels of trans fats in the diet may be associated with a decline in cognitive function and an increased risk of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Some research has also suggested that the consumption of PHOs may be linked to negative effects on reproductive health, including an increased risk of preterm delivery and reduced fertility in women.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that the consumption of trans fats results in 228,000 heart attacks annually. Additionally, these researchers claim that nearly 50,000 Americans die each year from excessive trans fat consumption.
Although their use has declined in recent years, partially hydrogenated oils still commonly replace butter, lard, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and other fats by food processors.
As a result, the average American eats 5.6 grams of trans fat per day, according to the American Heart Association, which holds that the healthy daily level, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, is less than two grams.
Based on the above, Americans are still consuming excess amounts of trans fat from their intake of partially hydrogenated oils.
Given the disheartening statistics above, one might wonder why companies still use partially hydrogenated oils and why people continue to consume them.
Up until 20 years ago, there was very little research concerning the harmful health effects of trans fats. As a result, Americans in the present are not aware of the dangers that trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils pose.
The American public needs to be informed of the negative health implications of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. This way, the nation can fight coronary disease with a decrease in the consumption of these bad fats.
Even though knowledge of trans fats has increased in recent years, most people are still clueless about the harm caused by artificial products.
Even further, those who are actually knowledgeable of trans fats believe that, since large food processors have begun to switch to healthier oils, partially hydrogenated oils no longer pose a serious threat.
On the contrary, the consumption of these unhealthy oils is still very common in restaurants throughout the United States.
While some of the largest corporations (Wendy’s, McDonald’s, etc.) have reduced their use of partially hydrogenated oils, most restaurants have not moved to healthier oils, resulting in the excess consumption of trans fats stated above.
In order to create a healthier America, the public must be educated about the danger of partially hydrogenated oil and trans fats and the necessity of their avoidance.
Additionally, state and local governments need to instate laws that prohibit the use of partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants across the country.
Alternatives to PHOs in food production
There are a number of alternatives to PHOs that can be used in food production:
- Natural, healthier oils: Oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are all-natural alternatives to PHOs that are rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These oils can be used in a variety of food products, including spreads, baked goods, and fried foods.
- Non-hydrogenated vegetable oils: A number of vegetable oils are not hydrogenated and therefore do not contain trans fats. These include canola oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil. These oils can be used in place of PHOs in many food products.
- New technologies for hydrogenation: In recent years, new technologies have been developed for the hydrogenation of oils that do not create trans fats. These technologies involve the use of enzymes or other catalysts to selectively hydrogenate the oil, resulting in a product that is free of trans fats. These alternatives to traditional PHOs are becoming more widely available and may be a viable option for food manufacturers in the future.
The latest Update On PHOs(Partially Hydrogenated Oils)
In response to the growing evidence of the negative health effects of PHOs, there have been efforts to regulate or ban their use in food products in various countries. In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required manufacturers to list trans fat content on nutrition labels. In 2015, the FDA took steps to eliminate PHOs from being “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) in the food supply. The European Union has also implemented regulations on the use of PHOs in food products.
However, according to FDA, it should be noted that trans fats in foods will not be completely eliminated as they may be found naturally in reduced amounts in meat and dairy products, as well as in lower levels in other edible oils.
The beauty of the partially hydrogenated oil ban, naturally, stems from the fact that the average American will no longer get an ingredient demonstrably harmful to their health.
As of 2021, PHOs have been largely removed from the food supply in the United States and Europe. However, they are still used in some countries, particularly in developing nations where regulations on their use may be less strict. It is important for consumers to be aware of the presence of PHOs in food products and to make informed choices about the foods they eat.
Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are a type of vegetable oil that has been chemically modified through the process of hydrogenation. PHOs have been widely used in the food industry as an ingredient in products such as margarine, fried foods, and baked goods.
However, more recent research has revealed the negative health effects of PHOs, including an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems. As a result, there have been efforts to regulate or ban the use of PHOs in food products in various countries.
There are a number of alternatives to PHOs that can be used in food production, including natural, healthier oils and new technologies for hydrogenation without the creation of trans fats. It is important for consumers to be aware of the presence of PHOs in food products and to make informed choices about the foods they eat.