What is hydrogenated oil?
Food companies began using hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs. Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this processing, a type of fat called trans fat is made. While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in some foods, most trans fats in the diet come from these processed hydrogenated fats.
Hydrogenated oils can affect heart health because they increase “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Still, food manufacturers continue to use them — especially partially hydrogenated oils (POH) — to:
- save money
- extend shelf life
- add texture
- increase stability
Hydrogenated oil isn’t always easy to spot, but there are ways to spot it and avoid it.
1. Know the common culprits
Hydrogenated oils are most commonly found in foods that also have saturated fat, such as:
- vegetable shortening
- packaged snacks
- baked goods (especially premade versions)
- ready-to-use dough
- fried foods
- coffee creamers (both dairy and non-dairy)
2. Read food labels carefully
Since hydrogenated oil contains trans fats, it’s best to avoid any food product that contains hydrogenated oil. Still, a product labeled as free from trans fats doesn’t mean it is. 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.
Some food labels claim there are no trans fats, but POH may still be listed as one of the ingredients. Therefore, it’s important to read both the food label and the ingredients list.
3. Use vegetable oils for cooking
Margarine and shortening are easy to cook with, but they contain hydrogenated oils. Opt for heart-healthy vegetable oils, such as safflower, canola, and olive oil instead. Consider baking and broiling your foods instead of frying them to save on fat and calories.
4. Limit packaged foods
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.
5. Makeover your snacks
Snacks can be an important part of a balanced diet. The 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 snacks that are naturally free of trans fats, including:
- mixed nuts
- carrot sticks
- apple slices
- a banana
- plain yogurt
(Remember to check the labels of any packaged goods you might eat with these snacks, such as hummus, peanut butter, and yogurt.)