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Friday, October 21, 2011

A scary Halloween tale (all about hydrogenated oils)

On Wednesday, I talked about good fats vs. bad fats and how animal fats are most likely better for you than man-produced oils. (How do you get oil from corn, anyhow, and when's the last time you ate a "canola"?)

Today, I'm going to tell a scary story about hydrogenated oils. So, gather the children around the campfire with a cup of hot cocoa. Here goes, but don't say I didn't warn you!

How it's made.
First, you start with the cheapest oils you can find, because this process is mostly about making money. These oils are not good for you or your heart because they oxidize quickly and are loaded with free radicals that cause cancer, wrinkles, inflammation, and a myriad of other concerns. But who cares, they're cheap.

Now, mix your oil with tiny metal particles, usually nickel oxide. Now, subject your metal/oil mixture to hydrogen gas in a high temperature, high pressure reactor. Now you have a hydrogenated oil, but its texture, taste and smell are not appetizing at all, so you're really only about halfway done.

Add emulsifiers and starches to give your oils a better consistency, steam clean it to get rid of the off-odors, then bleach it so it's not a disgusting grey anymore. Yum!

Now, it looks ok and doesn't stink, but it doesn't taste or look like butter yet, so you need to add some colorings and flavorings.

There you have it, margarine. Of course, if you're a big food company and you just want something cheap to put in everything you make, you can skip the coloring part, nobody will see that when you put it in anyway.

Why it's bad for you.
Here's the really scary part - hydrogenated fats are even worse for you than the oils they started out as because they undergo some major chemical changes. They are toxic to our bodies, but our bodies don't recognize that and actually incorporate them into our cells like natural fats. It has been indicated that these hydrogenated fats can cause cancer, obesity, immune disfunction and diabetes. Now that's frightening.

How to avoid eating them.
You may be thinking "I'm in the clear because we use real butter at our house." I'm sorry to say that hydrogenated oils are found in tons of the products you buy at the store each week such as baking mixes, baked goods, prepared frozen meats, fried foods and (most shocking to me) even peanut butter.

The good news is, you can avoid these hydrogenated oils by simply looking at the ingredient list while you're at the grocery store and not putting anything with hydrogenated oils into your shopping cart. Reading your ingredients is always a good idea, but that's another post for another day.

Eating out is more difficult, but you can always ask your waitress. If she says something like this, you can bet it's hydrogenated oils they're cooking in -
"I don't know, it comes in this big block and we just put it into the fryer." - We were told this at a restaurant. Hydrogenated fats are the only ones I know of that are solid at room temperature and cheap enough to use for producing large quantities of cheap food.

It's harder to know what's in your hamburger bun or slice of pie, though, unless the restaurant makes these things homemade. We don't worry too much when we're eating out, because we avoid things like this at home, the occasional splurge is not a big deal for me.

So, now that I've given you your daily dose of doom and gloom, don't get ovewhelmed and frustrated, do something about it! Baby steps are not only ok, they're the best way to make changes in my book! Here's your job, broken into two steps:

1. Start reading your ingredients.
2. Don't buy it if it has hydrogenated oils.

Your grocery store contains about 1,545,682 different options. (Yes, I went to all of your grocery stores and counted every single item in those stores. This is the average from all stores combined. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you somewhere....) I believe with all of my heart that you can find enough non-hydrogenated, healthy options to keep your family both fed and satisfied.

This post was shared at Fight Back Friday.

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