Get Rid of Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats)! 9 April 2015

Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are industrially produced trans fatty acids. Partial hydrogenation allows inexpensive liquid vegetable oils to be converted to solid fats with certain “desirable” textural properties for many foods – from baked goods to deep-fat fried foods. Unfortunately, this inexpensive fat is also the worst type of fat for human health. Regular consumption increases risk for cardiovascular disease (e.g. stroke and heart attacks) and Type 2 diabetes. No amount of trans fats from PHOs is healthful – avoid all sources.

Common Food Sources of Trans Fats

Although many fast food and casual chain restaurants have taken PHOs out of their foods, it is still a common food ingredient. Also, many packaged/processed foods we buy at the grocery store still contain PHOs. Hopefully, at some point PHOs will be removed from the FDA’s GRAS list (“Generally Recognized as Safe” food ingredients). Until then, we have to be on the lookout for this harmful ingredient.

According to the USDA Nutrient Database Release 25, the highest food source of trans fats is industrial vegetable shortening. This bad boy is used in many food products and can contain as many as 5.4 grams of trans fat per tablespoon. Compare that to an average of 2 grams per tablespoon in stick margarine. Any amount of trans fat is harmful, but the double whammy with fast food is that people are eating large portion sizes of multiple food items – many of which are high sources of trans fats. Example: 5.5 grams trans fats from a serving of Popeye’s Catfish fillets (2 grams trans fats) and one large serving of Cajun fries (3.5 grams trans fats).

Foods Likely to be High in Trans Fats (PHOs)

  • Deep-fat fried food of any type (French fries, onions, fish, popcorn shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • Doughnuts
  • Fast food frozen dairy desserts
  • Frozen meals
  • Packaged biscuit, cake, muffin, or pancake mixes
  • Packaged frosting or icing
  • Packaged cookies
  • Packaged pie or pie crust
  • Pastries
  • Nondairy creamers
  • Stick margarine

Note: most brands of peanut butter, microwave popcorn, and crackers no longer use PHOs, but always read the list of ingredients to be sure.

Read the Ingredients List

If there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the Nutrition Facts panel (food label) can list 0 grams of trans fat. This is a silly and harmful rule so be aware that any product that contains “partially hydrogenated oil” the ingredient list should be avoided.

If you are wondering if the fast food chain you like uses PHOs, view the restaurant’s website to find that information. Feel free to contact the restaurant and let your voice be heard. They want to keep customers!

Ruminant Trans Fats

There is a small amount of naturally occurring trans fats in ruminants (cattle, goat, sheep, and buffalo) but these types of fatty acids do not appear to be atherogenic (artery clogging) and some studies even suggest that consumption might have cardiovascular benefits. If you are confused as to which trans fats are included in the total gram count, then here is a simple rule: avoid all products that include partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list!

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Dining Out/Fast Food Nutrients/Fats

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