You’ve probably heard of hydrogenated oils, but do you know exactly what they are, how they are made or why they are not so great for your health?
Hydrogenated oils are unsaturated oils that have been put through a process to saturate them, making them shelf stable. All plant oils aside from coconut oil and palm oil are unsaturated. This means that they have double bonds in their molecular structures. Unsaturated oils are generally considered to be good for our health. The oils in chia seeds, avocado, walnuts etc. are all examples of unsaturated oils. These oils are more susceptible to damage than saturated fats because they have a carbon molecule that is free to be reacted with.
How Are Hydrogenated Oils Made?
Step 1. The process of hydrogenation begins with an unsaturated fat. Generally manufacturers will be using poorer quality oils like cottonseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil and corn oil.
Step 2. The oil is then heated to high temperatures to remove impurities. This process also damages the oils, causing them to oxidize.
Step 3. The oil is then mixed with a very finely ground metal catalyst. Nickel is a common metal used. A metal catalyst is needed to make the hydrogen reaction possible.
Step 4. The oil is then placed under high heat and high pressure inside a reactor vessel. The oil and nickel catalyst are then introduced to the hydrogen atoms which are forced into the molecular structure of the oils. This turns the oils into partially hydrogenated oils (not all double bonds are replaced with hydrogen bonds) or fully hydrogenated. Note that trans fats, the fats that we know are harmful to our health are produced during partial hydrogenation. If the oil is fully hydrogenated then it is no longer an edible substance. It also no longer contains trans fats, but that does not make it a good food to eat.
Step 5. If the oil was partially hydrogenated, emulsifiers are added to get rid of the lumps produced during the previous steps. Emulsifiers are basically soap like substances that help break up larger molecules into smaller ones to produce a smoother product.
Step 6. The oil is then heated again to “clean” it. Most oils are damaged with heat because heat changes the molecular structure of the oil itself, rendering it less nutritious or even dangerous for your health.
Step 7. The oil is bleached, because at this point the product will have a grey colour that consumers would not want to purchase.
Step 8. The product is then mixed with synthetic vitamins and minerals, and a natural yellow colour as it is illegal to add a synthetic yellow.
Quite the process! As you can most likely tell by now, partially hydrogenated oils are not your friend. It’s best to stick with natural fats like coconut butter, avocados, nuts, seeds, and even moderate amounts of organic ghee if you’re open to it. These are fats that the body recognizes, and the fats inside these foods are protected from oxidative damage by the food themselves. Fat is good, just be sure to eat the right kind of fat.
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