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What We Have To Understand About The Hydrogenation Of Vegetable Oil

What does it mean when a product contains hydrogenated vegetable oils?


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Dr Joel Yong

4 months ago | 2 min read
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What does it mean when a product contains hydrogenated vegetable oils?

We’ve had butter around for so long. Some say it was discovered in 8000 BC in ancient Africa, when a sheepskin container of milk was jostled around in land travel, resulting in the development of a curdled mixture that became known as butter.

Of course, the “problem” that some people say exists with butter is that it consists of saturated fat, and the overconsumption of saturated fat is arguably related to cholesterol and heart disease issues.

(To be honest, I don’t think it really is. Link to heart disease article below)

But when the prevailing narrative problem statement is that saturated animal fats can cause heart disease, then it does make sense to develop a “solution” that relies on unsaturated vegetable oils, isn’t it?

Why would unsaturated vegetable oils be marketed, though?

It’s a political matter that is linked to the heavy subsidies of crops such as corn and soybeans — and of course, corn and soybeans are significant providers of vegetable oil. We can see gallons and gallons of them in the supermarkets at any time.

They’re subsidised, they’re cheap, and there’s a whole ton of feedstock for producing all that corn oil and soybean oil that we see in the supermarkets today.

And I’m not even listing the other plant based oils that we can find in those supermarkets.

To get rid of all that stock, can we market it such that unsaturated vegetable oil is “healthier” than saturated animal fat? It’s already been done. It still is the prevailing opinion among many people today.

The problem is that unsaturated fats are just too darned unstable. Polyunsaturated fats contain multiple carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C), all of which are particularly susceptible to oxidation by atmospheric oxygen:

Hence they can go rancid very easily. They undergo an oxidation process known as lipid peroxidation, which creates more toxic by-products such as aldehydes. We’ve seen what too many aldehydes in our body can do already.

To protect these unsaturated fats and turn them into a more solidified mass, as it is in the case of margarine, one option is to hydrogenate those C=C double bonds, which we can do by reacting it with hydrogen in the presence of a palladium, platinum or nickel catalyst.

Hence we can come up with margarine products that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

And people tend to think that it’s “healthier” than butter because it’s not saturated animal fat, according to the prevailing narrative.

The problem with the hydrogenation process is that it has to occur at high temperature and pressure.

Now, if the reaction environment were not carefully controlled to eliminate all traces of atmospheric oxygen, that high temperature can easily cause oxygen to react with the C=C double bonds to form the lipid peroxides that can be toxic and carcinogenic to the human body:

And that’s the real danger of consuming processed foods that contain all the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils out there!

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Dr Joel Yong

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Educator | Biochemical Scientist

Deconstructing the interconnectedness between health and business. Join my mailing list at http://thethinkingscientist.substack.com or book a one-on-one consultation session with me at https://app.ddichat.com/experts/thethinkingscientist.


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