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When is a vegetable oil not a vegetable oil? When it's a plastic!

Hydrogenated fats responsible for many diseases

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The current hysteria regarding cholesterol stems from research done during the 1940s and 1950s by the manufacturers of the new margarines and "healthy" hydrogenated fats. The suggestion was that cholesterol (specifically Low-Density-Lipopotrein, or LDL-cholesterol) was responsible for heart disease, which was even then beginning to increase, due to the relatively high-fat diet enjoyed by most westerners.

This is not borne out by the facts.

  1. Western diets had always contained a relatively high proportion of red meat. this was not a new phenomenon.
  2. in 1978, Dr Mary Enig proved that cancer rates were directly related to consumption of vegetable oils (including hydrogenated fats) and total fat intake, but NOT related to animal fat consumption. This research is often ignored by the "cholesterol lobby", despite the fact that it has been confirmed by other researchers.
  3. Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) was virtually unknown until the 1940s, when hydrogenated fats were introduced.
  4. Little, if anything was done to examine the health effects of hydrogenated fats, which are entirely unknown in nature.
  5. Hydrogenated fats are literally "plastics", whch do not have the same properties as natural fats.
  6. The dangers of trans fats were recognised as long ago as 1958, but the vegetable oil industry continues to bad-mouth safer, natural animal fats.

What is Hydrogenation?
Hydrogenation is the chemical name for the addition of hydrogen to an existing molecule, usually an organic molecule which has a doubl-bond between two carbon atoms. That bond is broken and a hydrogen atom binds to each of the free bonds on adjacent carbon atoms.

H2C=CH2 becomes H3C-CH3

This is achieved by forcing hydrogen, at high temperature (250-400C) and pressure into the liquid oil, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel or platinum, over several hours. Unfortunately, the process can't control where the hydrogen atoms are added to the molecule, resulting in a mixture of totally unnatural fats, many of which are trans fatty acids. Fatty acids are the "building blocks" of fats, in much the same way as amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.  The resulting fats are totally unnatural hydrogenated fats.

The consequences of of creating hydrogenated fats are:

  • The melting point of the oil is raised, turning many previously liquid oils into solids.
  • Shelf-life is increased, as the resulting oil is less susceptible to degrading over time (maybe bacteria have a difficult time eating it too!).
  • All nutritional value in the original oil is lost.
  • The texture of the resultant solid can be made to resemble that of natural, animal fats.
  • The previously perfectly natural oil becomes a totally unnatural, dangerous, relatively undigestable "plastic".
  • Tissues made with the "false" fat cannot function properly, as thousands of enzymes can't bind to them, giving rise to a host of disease states.

Why bother making hydrogenated fats?
In fact, the prime reason for inventing these oils was that the producers (mostly in the USA, especially in the early days) needed them to survive the long transatlantic ship journey required to reach the markets in Europe. The driving force was, then, the increase in shelf-life which hydrogenation caused. Little or no consideration was given to the health effects of this major chemical alteration of the oil molecule.

In addition to this, hydrogenation allows the manufacturer to turn a liquid oil into something that resembles the totally natural food, butter in colour, texture, "mouth feel" and taste, whilst it is clearly something VERY different.

Omega 3,6 & 9 from Flax Seed Oil and Primrose Oil and Omega Oil.

In doing so, natural oils are converted into totally unnatural fats, which not only had never existed before, but which have completely different effects on the body than their natural counterparts. Many of these compounds are so called "trans fats", many of which do not occur naturally and which are known to have serious health implications, not just in relation to heart disease, but also to cancer, diabetes, obesity, pregnancy and the function of the immune system.

In fact, the fact that these trans fats are straight molecule and not natural, curved ones leads to one of the simplest and most important deficiencies of trans fats - that the enzymes that control bodily function cannot bind to them and cell membranes made from them (for more information, see the original research here) . This means that these cells malfunction and that vital body processes are interrupted, causing many serious, chronic and degnerative diseases.

Despite this clear evidence from researchers concerned about the modern obsession with animal fats, hydrogenated fats are still used routinely by the food industry and are a major contributor to ill-health. Recently, some manufacturers have become so concerned about this issue that they have taken the extraordinary (for them) step of removing trans fats from all of their products. the Mars company is one such example.

In the USA, the FDA has ruled that nutritional information on foods must include the level of trans fats from 2006. in the meantime, they simply suggest that consumption of trans fats should be "as low as possible"!

The simple answer is to avoid hydrogenated fats and products that contain them whenever possible. For a list of foods that are most dangerous, see the chapter on trans fats.

Back from Hydrogenated Fats to nutritional supplements

Further reading

Know Your Fats : The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol
by Mary G. Enig

The Cholesterol Myths : Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease
by Uffe Ravnskov

Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill: The Complete Guide to Fats, Oils, Cholesterol and Human Health
by Udo Erasmus

Choosing the Right Fats: For Vibrant Health, Weightloss, Energy, Vitality (Natural Health Guide)
by Udo Erasmus

The Omega-3 Connection: The Groundbreaking Antidepression Diet and Brain Program
by Andrew L. M.D. Stoll

Related Links

Conquering weight loss using natural methods

Conquering heart disease using natural methods

Public enemy number one. Or is it - find out why cholesterol is not the baddie it has been made out to be and why you need it!

Essential fatty acids
Otherwise known as "brain food", these fats can't be made in the body and must be in the diet. Unfortunately, in many cases they are almost totally missing, leading to numerous health (and psychiatric / social) problems.

Saturated animal fat
Red meat, dairy products, lard dripping and suet - a recipe for disease or the means to prevent it?

Vegetable oils
All oils are not created equal. Find out why some vegetable oils are better than others.


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