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My Rant on Hydrogenation

October 24, 2005

Last time I said this was planned to be a weekly feature, and that I would talk more about nutrition. We got busy on other parts of the website and skipped a week. Back on it once again, here are a few thoughts on the issue of nutrition.

The American public has been deceived about foods for the last 90 years or so, starting with WW1 and the priority to send our real butter to the troops overseas, and the invention of margarine and shortening for the home folks. That began the domestic vegetable oil processing industry, and pretty much, the corruption of the whole food industry. The technology for converting cheap, liquid vegetable/grain oil into solid fat that had a nearly infinite shelf life was hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is a process of adding hydrogen atoms to the carbon chain that forms the backbone of every fat molecule, in locations where there were no hydrogen atoms before. Fats with missing hydrogen atoms are called mono- or poly-unsaturated fats, and so hydrogenation is a process of making more-saturated fats out of unsaturated fats. So, in addition to making margarine, the oil folks could make ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils with that nearly infinite shelf life for use in the entire baked goods industry, and nothing went rancid ever again.

But before hydrogenation takes place the raw oils must be ‘refined’ to get rid of the colors, smells, tastes and any – God forbid – cloudiness. These oils were promoted as being ‘pure’ and put on grocery shelves in clear bottles so we could feel good about their purity. The primary reason for refining is again, shelf life. Refining removes all the short-chain fatty acids that go rancid (oxidize) in a heartbeat, and are rapidly degraded by light. It also removes the thousands of nutrients locked in the seed or fruit that were available in simpler times to those primitive folks who used unrefined oils, pressed fresh in their markets on a daily basis. Understand this – everything needed to pass life from one generation to the next is present in the grains and seeds pressed for oil. The oil contains all the fat-soluble nutrients necessary for life, and that mankind evolved getting a big part of our nutrients from these oils.

In fact, there are two fatty acids that are ESSENTIAL to our life – we can’t make them in our bodies, and if we don’t get them we die. These are alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. These are referred to as essential fatty acids or EFAs. They enable a huge number of functions in our bodies, including energy production, oxygen transfer in our lungs, hemoglobin production, cell division and growth, and are highly involved in brain development and operation. They are essential components of every membrane of every cell we possess, and control the flow of nutrients into and waste/toxins out of the cells.

Now, to add insult to injury, refining and hydrogenation create a type of fat molecule that rarely existed in the food supply before – the trans-fat. Normal unsaturated fats are bent molecules, because a missing hydrogen atom kinks the carbon chain; that’s what makes them functional in the body. Trans-fats, however, are straight because of the errant position of an extra hydrogen molecule, and can’t perform the same functions as the normal or sis-fat. But the body can’t tell the difference and tries to use them for the same functions, crippling cells and their operations. Tragically, there are mountains of evidence that the health impact of these changes is profound, but the food industry and our watchdog FDA show little concern.

The entire meat industry has been impacted as well. For decades we have been feeding livestock manufactured feeds based on hydrogenated oils, so that the composition of the fats in our meats is vastly different than it was in the 1800’s. It is now nearly devoid of EFAs and much higher in saturated fat and trans-fats than livestock that is free-range fed or wild game animals.

I want to impress upon you that fats and oils are essential for life, and the low-fat insanity of the last 30 years has damaged the health of two generations. But, you must avoid the harmful fats and eat the right fats to be healthy. For the most part that means Extra Virgin Olive Oil and butter for cooking, and either flax oil or a balanced-EFA, unrefined oil mix such as Udo’s Oil by the tablespoon or as a base for salad dressings with meals. For those of you who really want to get the truth in all its detail regarding the importance of fats in human physiology, I refer you to Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill: The Complete Guide to Fats, Oils, Cholesterol and Human Health. Click the link to find it at Amazon. Also, Life Extension Magazine has an article by Dr. Nicholas V. Perricone, MD. dealing with the history and detriment of the low fat insanity, as the primary cause of our rampant obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation, leading to heart disease, Alzheimer’s and more. Read it Here – very worth your time.

Good Living – Frank

Frank Wilhelmi
Frank Wilhelmi

Frank Wilhelmi – Retired/consultant electronic engineer researches and reports practical strategies for optimizing health and fitness into advanced age. “I have a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping others to do the same.” A rapidly growing body of knowledge now enables us to extend our health and fitness decades beyond popular expectations.

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