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trans fat and partially hydrogenated oil

  • j

I am a little confused. Are trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils the same? If so, why do some products claim to be "Trans Fat Free" yet have partially hydrogenated oils in their ingredient lists? Any help on this subject would be great!

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  1. j
    Joan Kureczka

    To my understanding they are the same thing. However, if the total amount is below a certain defined level (which I can't remember exactly right now), the food can qualify for the "trans-fat free" label. Not exactly truthful labeling.

    1. Any food with partially hydrogenated oil contains transfat and will raise your cholesterol. It's not good for you! It's just as bad as saturated fats.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Richie
        Amanda Demarest

        I've been buying a butter substitute put out by Fleischmann's (ConAgra Foods) that advertises "no trans fat" and "made with olive oil" because I thought it would be better for my family. However, I just noticed that the fourth ingredient listed is partially hydrogenated soybean oil. How can it claim to have no trans fat? I guess I'm confused because I thought the terms "trans fat" and "partial hydrogenated oil" were synonymous. This product tastes good, but now I'm wondering if using butter or olive oil would be preferable.

      2. Partial hydrogenation, despite the adjective, is like being pregnant: it's a yes or no thing. It does not tell you how hydrogentation. The no-trans-fat products have a relatively slight level of hydrogenation that produces such a negligible amount of trans fat that it is rounded down to 0% (all food nutritional data is approximate, btw, and averaged over large production quantities -- people don't realize this). And trans fat levels used for labeling are based on the total product composition, not only the fat portion.

        1. Hydrogenation is the process, trans-fats are the result. Rather than get into the specific legalities of labeling, why not simply avoid any and all of it? Use mono- and poly- unsaturated liquid vegetables oils for most things, and saturated butter for a few things, as nature provided, and as mankind used for millennia, long before he figured out how to process corn oil with extreme heat, nickel, emulsifiers, bleach, and artifical flavors and coloring, to produce something that would make increased rates of heart disease and subsidies to corn growers our norm!

          3 Replies
          1. re: applehome

            And don't forget healthful lard!

            1. re: Karl S.

              Lard: About 40% saturated, 48% monounsaturated and 12%polyunsaturated. Like duck and goose fat, lard is stable (won't go rancid quickly, like the mono's), and an excellent source of Vitamin D. The amount and balance of omega-3's and 6's varies according to the pig's diet. Lard has traditionally been used for frying because it has a fairly high smoking point, and low level of free fatty acids - where high levels of fatty acids (as in unsaturated veg oils) will ruin the flavor of whatever is being fried, even without smoking.

              (Info from Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions.)

              I don't hear anybody saying eat gobs of saturated fats. But I do hear that eating zero isn't necessary, and oh by the way, you should eat zero trans-fats.

              1. re: applehome
                Eldon Kreider

                I have seen lard containers indicating a blend of lard and hydrogenated lard. You do need to check the ingredients even in lard.

          2. In light of the recent announcement by KFC to eliminate most trans fats from its products, why is this such a big deal to the fast food industry?
            Vegetable oils are not in short supply and are inexpensive. Higher smoke point oils (canola, soybean) are compatible with deep frying.
            I find it hard to believe that large corporations can't tune their recipes for a more healthful fat.
            Is this a frying fat 'life cycle' cost issue to them?

            1. If it has less than .5 grams of trans fats, it can be rounded down to 0. That's why you need to read the labels. These small amounts can add up substantially if you're not careful.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chowser

                Yes, .5 per serving. The serving may be "one cookie". Much easier to put down about 95 to 100% of packages you pick up with that poison.

              2. Rather than these food products stating on their labels "0 trans fats", it would be more helpful and accurate if the reference was to the maximum amount of the food that can be consumed before the minimum amount of potentially harmful trans fats is reached.

                So, if you grab a bag of cookies, you know that you are still in the "green zone" if you eat two cookies, but enter the "red zone" by eating three. (In my case, Kedem, the manufacturer of dry biscuit-like cookies, stated that they changed over to a no trans fat process. The things are addicting for those of us that thrive on such morcels. Seeing that they were "0" trans fats, I felt safe in eating the entire bag, all 4.2 oz. Now, I know that I am probably ingesting some trans fats. I wonder, given that products like these, and Pringles, claim to contain no trans fats, what the actual amount of TFA are when the entire container is consumed at one sitting.) I know few people who would just take out one biscuit, or one Pringle, and say, "there ... I am satisfied."
                For me, all too often, the "one" refers to the packaging for the entire contents, not the contents in and of themselves being the one.

                2 Replies
                1. re: FelafelBoy

                  That would be like putting the number of cigarettes you can have before the harmful amount of nicotine is reached... Plus, at least with cigarettes, you know when/where you're getting nicotine. With tranfats, it's cumulative--waffle for breakfast, popcorn for snack, some chips/crackers, pb, etc. There are many hidden sources, even with foods that seem healthful.

                  1. re: FelafelBoy

                    There's no safe level of trans fats--the recommended daily allowance is zero. Hence the lack of an entry in the "% daily value" column of the Nutrition Facts labels.

                  2. Thanks to all! I'm aware of the insidious rounding down issue, so we must be on the lookout for 'partially hydrogenated' in the ingredients list (conveniently printed in 1 point type on non-contrasting background).
                    However to clarify my post above, my query is aimed at the professional chefs / commercial food producers / nutritionists among us.
                    - Why would vegetable oils be less desirable for frying than shortening?
                    - Are there more than trace amounts of trans fat in vegetable oils?
                    TIA, Mike

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: DiveFan

                      It's not all vegetable oils that have trans fats, just the ones that go through the hydrogenation process. Technically, saturated fats are called "saturated" because they're saturated with hydrogen, while the unsaturated fats have some double bonds in place of some hydrogen. Hydrogenation adds hydrogen to the fat in place of the double bonds. This process turns regular unsaturated vegetable oil into partially hydrogenated oils, hence trans fats. There's more to it all, but that's the simple version of it. If restaurants were to stick with, say peanut oil, in frying, there wouldn't be trans fats in the food. But, many use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (ironically fast foods went from animal fat to this because people said the animal fat was bad). In terms of how much in the fried food, that depends on how much oil remains in the food. Burger King fries are supposed to be the worst because they put that crunchy coating on the outside that holds extra oil in.

                      1. re: chowser

                        chowser, am I to understand from your explanation that partially hydrogenated veggie oils 'put the crunchy coating on'? That's why I asked question (1) above - what culinary Property does partial hydrogenation grant to the oil that makes it desirable for frying?
                        FYI I've been frying with canola and grapeseed oil for years with culinary success :-). The toughest problem for me has been to keep the temperature constant and optimum between smoking (too high) and greasy food (too low).
                        Re question (2) I'm still interested in a list (if known) comparing more precisely how much trans fat various unprocessed veggie oils really contain. 0 point N grams per 'serving' is not very helpful for resolving FelafelBoys dilemma - the multiplication factor.

                        1. re: DiveFan

                          BK adds a crunchy coating to their fries. So, when it's fried in the partially hydrogenated oil, it holds more oil. Restaurants use it because it's cheap, lasts a long time. Regular vegetable oil that hasn't been processed has no trans fats. So, what you're doing at home is best and has no trans fats. The problem comes in eating out and you don't know what the restaurant is using.

                          1. re: DiveFan

                            Unprocessed vegetable oil contains no trans fats. They're created by the hydrogenation process.