Fully hydrogenated oil does not have the same harmful impact that partially hydrogenated oil does. Not all hydrogenated fats are necessarily bad for you, and it's important to know the key differences among them.
Trans Fat Free Oils List
When searching for trans fat free oils, look for those that contain no partially hydrogenated oil. Hydrogenation is the process of firming oils by heating them alongside hydrogen and a catalyst; this creates a firmer structure and an extended shelf life, but when done partially it creates an abundance of trans fat.
Trans fats are harmful because they raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in the body and lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), which can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Harvard Health explains that consuming as little as 2 percent of calories from trans fats contributes to a 23 percent increase in the likelihood of heart disease.
With this in mind, it is no wonder many people are trying to minimize their trans fat intake — and one of the ways this can be achieved is by removing partially hydrogenated oils from your diet and replacing them with fully hydrogenated oils.
Fully hydrogenated oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which are actually considered good fats. According to Harvard Health, polyunsaturated fats are used by the body to build cell membranes and provide nerves with their protective covering; they're also necessary for blood clotting and muscle movement.
The following fully hydrogenated oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats:
- Soybean oil: Despite being high in saturated fat following hydrogenation, the most prominent saturated fat found in this oil is stearic acid, which does nothing to raise bad cholesterol levels due to how quickly it is converted into monounsaturated acid.
- Olive oil: Harvard Health notes that monounsaturated fat was first discovered to be potentially healthy back in the 1960s, when it was revealed that those living in the Mediterranean region experienced lower levels of heart disease despite their high fat diet. This is because their fats come from monounsaturated sources, such as olive oil, as opposed to saturated fats from animal products, which cause heightened levels of heart disease.
- Peanut oil: Fully hydrogenated oil is used in peanut butter to prevent the oil from rising to the top of the jar, and ensuring it stays fresher for longer.
- Canola oil: Similar to olive oil, canola oil is high in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats, meaning it doesn't pose the same threat to cardiovascular health as partially hydrogenated oil. Canola oil also contains a significant amount of phytosterols, which act to reduce the absorption of cholesterol by the body.
According to the American Heart Association, sunflower oil, corn oil and flaxseed oil are all high in polyunsaturated fats too, and can help reduce the risk of heart disease when consumed in moderation thanks to their role in reducing bad cholesterol.
What Is Hydrogenated Oil?
Hydrogenation is a chemical process used to convert liquid oils into solids — so hydrogenated oils include any oil products that have been through this process. Hydrogenation is used by manufacturers to increase the shelf life of foods and provide them with a firmer texture.
Two varieties of hydrogenated oil are produced from this process of hydrogenation:
- Partially hydrogenated oil
- Fully hydrogenated oil
Partially hydrogenated oil is the worse of the two because it is high in trans fats. You have probably heard of trans fat, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it is considered by doctors the worst form of fat in food.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even issued a final determination saying partially hydrogenated oils are no longer recognized as safe for use in human food — after the the deadline of June 18, 2018, any manufactured food could not have partially hydrogenated oils added to it. By January 1, 2020, all foods sold and distributed cannot have partially hydrogenated oil used as an additive.
Because of this, fully hydrogenated oil has increasingly been added to food to act as a replacement for partially hydrogenated oil. Fully hydrogenated oil does not contain trans fat, which is what contributes to partially hydrogenated oil's damaging effects. With fully hydrogenated oil, manufacturers can turn liquid oil into firmer products without the harmful addition of trans fats — but this doesn't mean fully hydrogenated oil is entirely healthy.
Fully hydrogenated oil is high in a form of saturated fat known as stearic acid. Luckily, despite being a fatty acid, stearic acid does not contribute to cardiovascular disease in the same way. Once in the body, stearic acid metabolizes into oleic acid, a much healthier monounsaturated fat.
In addition, while too much saturated fat is bad for the heart, replacing all saturated fats with refined carbohydrates is just as bad for the heart. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, while this diet alteration does lower bad LDL cholesterol, it also lowers good HDL cholesterol, meaning its effect on the heart is similarly detrimental to consuming excessive saturated fats.
The best course of action for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is to reduce the amount of saturated fats in your diet and replace them with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.
A June 2017 literature review carried out by the American Heart Association and published in the Journal of Circulation found that replacing dietary saturated fat (such as from hydrogenated fats) with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced cardiovascular disease by 30 percent, and that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat (particularly polyunsaturated fat) demonstrated a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Risks Associated With Trans Fats
According to the Mayo Clinic, the excessive consumption of trans fats increases your risk of heart disease dramatically. Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women.
Since the FDA began the process of removing partially hydrogenated oils from food manufacturing, trans fat is going to become less and less available, posing less of a threat. However, trans fat does not just come from partially hydrogenated oil. It can also occur naturally in meat and dairy products. There is usually only a small amount, but its presence is worth noting.
The Mayo Clinic explains that not only is trans fat harmful because it increases the risk of heart disease, it can also contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes. This doesn't necessarily mean all foods devoid of trans fats are good for you, however.
Coconut oil, in particular, is often taken to be a healthy food oil, but is actually exceptionally high in saturated fat. An April 2016 literature review published in the Journal of Nutrition Reviews found a link between the replacement of coconut oil with unsaturated fats and the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mayo Clinic says olive, peanut and canola oils are healthier oils high in monounsaturated fats.
- Consumer Reports: "Is Fully Hydrogenated Oil Better for You Than Partially Hydrogenated Oil?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Trans Fat: Avoid The Cholesterol Double Whammy"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils"
- Quality Matters: "Why a Monograph for Fully Hydrogenated Oils and Fats Is Needed"
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "About Trans Fat and Partially Hydrogenated Oils"
- Tufts University: "Ask The Expert"
- Harvard Health: "The Truth About Fats"
- National Peanut Board: " Why You Shouldn’t be Scared of Oil in Your Peanut Butter"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Concerns About Canola Oil"
- American Heart Association: "Polyunsaturated Fat"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Types of Fat"
- Journal of Circulation: "Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association"
- Journal of Nutrition Reviews: "Coconut Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Humans"