Hydrogenation turns a liquid unsaturated fat into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. Fully hydrogenated oils are mostly saturated fat and don’t pose the same health risks as trans fat, so they are allowed in manufactured foods.

Food companies began using hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs. Food manufacturers use hydrogenated oils to:

  • save money
  • extend shelf life
  • add texture
  • increase stability

During the production of hydrogenated oil, a type of fat called trans fat is made. “Partially hydrogenated” oils contain trans fats in the final product. Small amounts of trans fats are also found naturally in some foods.

Partially hydrogenated oils can affect heart health because they increase “bad” (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) cholesterol and lower “good” (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) cholesterol.

Because of these health concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils by food manufacturers in 2018.

On a food label, you’ll usually just see “hydrogenated oil,” not “fully hydrogenated oil.”

Some people choose to avoid fully hydrogenated fats because they have been altered using industrial processes.

Hydrogenated oil also tends to be high in . So if you’re trying to reduce your intake of saturated fat, you might avoid this ingredient.

Hydrogenated oil isn’t always easy to spot, but there are ways to find it and avoid it.

Hydrogenated oils are most commonly found in ultra-processed foods that also have saturated fat, such as:

  • margarine
  • vegetable shortening
  • packaged snacks
  • baked foods, especially premade versions
  • ready-to-use dough
  • fried foods
  • coffee creamers, both dairy and nondairy

If you want to find hydrogenated oils, it’s important to read both the food label and the ingredients list. Check for the word “hydrogenated,” for example “hydrogenated soybean oil.”

Because of the risks associated with trans fat, it’s best to avoid any food product that contains partially hydrogenated oil. If you find a product like shortening hiding in the back of your cupboard, check the packaging carefully in case it was produced before the partially hydrogenated oil ban.

Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list, for example “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.”

Just because a product is labeled as free from trans fats, that does not necessarily mean it contains none at all. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a company can label a food free of trans fats if the actual content is 0.5 grams per serving or less. This isn’t the same as 0 grams.

Margarine and shortening are easy to cook with, but they typically contain hydrogenated oils. Opt for heart-healthy vegetable or plant oils, such as safflower, olive, or avocado oil instead.

The American Heart Association suggests that liquid vegetable oils are the best choice for your cardiovascular health.

One study from 2011 showed safflower oil may improve blood glucose levels and lipids and decrease inflammation. Olive oil and avocado oil have also been shown to be heart-healthy oils.

Consider baking and broiling your foods instead of frying them if you want to save on fat and calories.

Partially hydrogenated oils go hand in hand with food preservation, so hydrogenated fat often ends up in packaged foods. Decrease your dependence on packaged foods. Start by eliminating one food group at a time.

For example, cook your own rice or potatoes from scratch instead of relying on seasoned, boxed versions.

Snacks can be an important part of a balanced diet. They can sustain you until the next meal, keep you from being overly hungry, and prevent drops in blood sugar. The problem is that many convenient snacks are made with hydrogenated oil.

Opt for more satiating whole-food snacks, including:

Remember to check the labels of any packaged goods you might eat with these snacks, such as hummus, peanut butter, and flavored yogurt.

For great snacking, check out these high-protein snacks, snacks your kids will love, snacks to help you lose weight, and diabetes-friendly snacks.