Are we playing a game of chance with the oils we consume? And if so, which oils?

French fries and hydrogenated oils

I’ve been studying about fats in a cookbook called Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. There are different kinds of fats, and the book discusses whether or not saturated fats are good for you.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat is a fat that is naturally full up with hydrogen atoms such that it’s stable for the body to consume [more at]. Bear with me on this hydrogen thing.

Saturated fat most often comes from animals and is solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fat would be fat from a Spencer stake, ground beef, chicken, turkey or bacon, butter — and tropical oils, like coconut oil.

Saturated fat normally won’t go rancid (develop a foul odor and go rotten). You can use this kind of fat for cooking and it still won’t go bad.

Monounsaturated fat

From the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon:

Monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond in the form of two carbon atoms double-bonded to each other and therefore lack two hydrogen atoms.

I included that last part because they are talking about a pair of hydrogen atoms missing and thus the oil tends toward liquidity. Saturated fat doesn’t have those two missing hydrogen atoms and so will be solid at room temperature.

Monounsaturated fat tends to be liquid at room temperature. An example of a monounsaturated fat is oleic acid, which is found in olive oil, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados. You can press cashews and obtain a quantity of oil or fat and that is monounsaturated fat. It’s a sort of a step down from saturated fat but is stable and does not go rancid easily and can be used in cooking.

But when you eat saturated fat, your body will also make monounsaturated fat naturally!

I’m not a nuclear scientist nor am I a doctor, and I’m working with what was written in the cookbook, yet I have to communicate to you, the reader — so, again, bear with me.

Polyunsaturated fat

Polyunsaturated fat or oil comes in the form of vegetable oils such as soy oil, corn oil, safflower and canola oil, which contain both double unsaturated (missing four hydrogen atoms) linoleic acid (called omega-6) and triple unsaturated (missing six hydrogen atoms) linoleic acid (called omega 3). Since our bodies don’t make omega-6 and omega-3 acids, these two acids are considered "essential" or "Essential Fatty Acids" (or EFA’s) — however, while these are necessary, they’re nowhere near as necessary as saturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats and oils are yet another general step down from saturated fats.

Polyunsaturated oils remain liquid even if you put it in the refrigerator. They go rancid easily and so preservatives are added to extend shelf life. They should not be used for cooking because the heat oxidizes the oil and causes it to go bad.

To quote from Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids [fat or oil] have two or more pairs of double bonds and therefore lack four or more hydrogen atoms.

Again there’s the hydrogen atom/lack thereof situation in polyunsaturated oils. In case you’re not counting, we’re now down at least four hydrogen atoms from the saturated fat atomic count. (Bear with me!)

Trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils — the joker in the deck!

There are other kinds of "fats." These fats have been altered or "processed" if you will. Remember that saturated fats are from animals, and that trans fats and hydrogenated oils were missing hydrogen atoms prior to hydrogenation? Read on.

Trans fats: you partially hydrogenate vegetable oils, such as soy oil, corn oil, safflower and canola oil, and make them solidly soft. Most margarine, commercial baked goods and many fried foods employ these "trans fats."

Partially or fully hydrogenated oils: hydrogenation is the conversion of liquid oils to semi-hard fats by adding hydrogen; used for margarines and shortenings intended for bakery products. This was invented by an English chemist William Norman, 1901. Trans fats are hydrogenated oils, which can be confusing on product labels.

The Nourishing Traditions cookbook states that partially hydrogenated oils (man-made trans fats) are toxic to your body. In essence, your body takes these trans fats into the cells and your cells then become partially hydrogenated. This disrupts metabolism, which is the process in which you take in food or water and a chemical reaction occurs which gives you energy.

In other words, your body pulls nutrients out of food as it passes through the intestinal tract and converts those nutrients to energy. Well and good, but ingesting vegetable oils to which hydrogen has been added apparently disrupts the natural energy-making activity of your body. However, with hydrogenated oils, your body is fooled into thinking that what you just ate was saturated fat. Tricksy!

How does this happen? How does the body come to interpret trans fats and hydrogenated oils as saturated fats? Simply by the addition of the hydrogen — the hydrogenation.

It gets worse. The body uses fat for energy, but when your cells become partially hydrogenated, your body has much more difficulty getting the fat into use — so, instead of converting the fat to energy, it stores this fat somewhere in your body. Translated? You gain weight.

So when you read that ingredients label and see trans fat or partially hydrogenated oils, think: "I’m getting fat" — literally.

Vegetable oils, like canola, corn, soy, cottonseed, are highly refined vegetable oils and are cheap to produce and easy to hydrogenate. You know: those vegetable oils used to make margarine or shortening, used in baking, etc. They are bad for you because they disrupt your metabolism.

As well, vegetable oils, hydrogenated or not, can easily go bad. Even when used in baked goods.

Eating hydrogenated fats has been associated with some very serious diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, decreased visual acuity (sharpness, clearness, keenness), sterility, difficulty with mothers lactating and problems with bones and tendons. These types of "processed" oils are not healthy!

A deck of cards usually caries two jokers. So, here’s the second joker in the deck: genetically modified oils, which are quite common in baked goods, French fries, the list goes on and on. Partially hydrogenated oils that come from genetically modified vegetable oils are a very unhealthy double whammy on your and your children’s bodies, changing the game for the worse. [See our Processed Foods Can Cause Cancer.] And we still don’t know what effects genetically modified foods have on us over the long term.

Rancidity: comparing saturated fats to polyunsaturated fats

At the turn of the previous century, the 1900’s, there was no such thing as trans oils or fats.

There were saturated fats from butter, lard, tallow (fat from animals), coconut oil and olive oil. Saturated fats don’t go rancid.

Vegetable oils came into heavy use in the mid 1900’s — around the time saturated fats were demonized.

But vegetable oils go rancid if they are subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture, like when you cook with them or in food "processing." These spoiled oils then run amok in our bodies, attacking cell membranes and blood vessels and your skin; you can get wrinkles and age faster. These rancid vegetable oils set your body up for tumors and hardening of the arteries. Eating vegetable oils has been shown to have a high correlation with cancer and heart disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and cataracts. Vegetable oils do have some use (such as EFA’s or essential fatty acids) — the problem comes when you consume too much and if they’re out of proportion to saturated fats.

Consuming saturated fats give necessary stiffness and integrity to cell membranes so that they can function properly. For calcium to be properly assimilated into your bones, you should eat saturated fats. They lower a substance in the blood called Lp(a), a substance that indicates proneness to heart disease. Saturated fats also help the liver with toxins and enhance the immune system. They make the "essential fatty acids" or EFA’s work better in your body, and have anti-microbial properties and help out in the digestive tract.

I would suggest you find out for yourself which group was generally sicker: the group from the early 1900’s or our group from the late 1900’s up to now.

Also, when you eat meat, make sure it doesn’t have estrogen or antibiotics in it.

If you’re healthy, you can work and can obtain the things you want from life. Life is fun. And the joy you get from living can be passed down to your children. The opposite of that would be a debilitating illness that drains the life right out of you and your family. Where’s the fun in that?

My suggestion is to throw out the jokers in the deck. Let’s play some seven-card stud, high-low splits the pot and have some fun.

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25 Comments for "Saturated Fats versus partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans fats"

  1. Carol Murphy

    I have been reading the ingredients for coffee-mate creamer, sugar free. I’m concerned about the partially hydrogenated soybean and /or cottonseed oils. I am
    a diabetic (type 2) and have artery disease. PAD and
    heart stents. I’m also 50 pounds overweight and struggling
    to lose it. I drink coffee once a day. About 16 ounces.
    Coffeemate Hazelnut makes it taste better. However, I’m
    becoming a label reader and now I’m wondering if I
    should switch to soy milk. All of this seems so confusing. I’m 66 and have just retired. Can you give me
    an answer in laymens language?
    Thank you,
    Carol Murphy

  2. Diane Vigil

    Hello, Carol. We can’t give medical advice per se because we are not doctors.

    But, what we found in terms of a more healthy existence is that we’ve switched over to organic food as best we can. We’ve cut out sugar almost entirely and replaced it with eating more protein, such as meats — in short, giving the body actual nutrients rather than anything that seems like a nutrient but isn’t. And, since, "processed" foods may have the nutrients processed out of the food to a great degree and replaced with "ingredients" that are unnecessary and tough for bodies to deal with (such as preservatives or anti-fungal agents), we’ve nixed those from our diets as well. This has enabled our bodies’ organs to get a "break" from having to process difficult "ingredients" — and has improved our health.

    We recommend the cookbook Nourishing Traditions, which you can get at You may also find that organic coffee (which is not processed and does not contain the chemicals used in processing regular coffee) and organic milk (such as Organic Pastures brand) can help you to give your body nutrients while allowing you to enjoy your coffee.

  3. Paulina Therese

    I have grown to be quite turned off by processed foods, and I have modified my diet to contain mainly whole foods – and I feel GREAT.

  4. Diane Vigil

    Welcome, Paulina — and I sure know what you mean. It’s amazing how much difference it makes to stay away from processed foods, isn’t it?

    I’ve also found that, with a little work, you can cook just about anything in a more healthy fashion. Of course it’s that “with a little work” that might make someone reconsider, but the benefits of how you feel are worth everything.

    I wonder how many people are beginning to feel this way — or maybe they just don’t know?

  5. Lynn Cameron

    Hello George,

    You forgot to mention Lauric Acid, an essential fatty acid (EFA) absolutely required for healthy nervous systems. The body cannot make it, and heat deactivates its beneficial action. Lauric Acid is found in usable amounts in only two foods that I know of: raw milk from grass-fed cows and cold-pressed coconut oil.

    Lynn Cameron

  6. George Vigil

    Sorry about that Lynn. Thanks for picking up my mistake.

  7. Indi

    Hello, I have read that trans fats can also accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries. However, I am not sure how they do this. I am wondering if you can explain how?

  8. Alexander Vasserman DDS

    This was a very good explanation thank you for posting another thing to point out is that Trans Fats tend to increase the amount of Saturated Fat in your blood above normal limits, this causes plaque(in the vessels) to form thus reducing the internal diameter of your arteries and creates circulation problems which also increase blood pressure and create an unnecessary strain on your heart to pump blood. Its like taking silicone caulking and injecting it into your arteries. Once the trans fat has been absorbed it can not be metabolised or broken down and removed from your body. It is there for good.
    The FDA was prevented by lobbyists for 16 years from being able to put the amount of TransFat on the nutritional facts label. And even now the label can say zero Grams of transfat and still contain up to 20% transfat. Look for words like hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or modified vegetable(canola palm kernel coconut soy bean, etc…) oil. If it is Modified beware. Pharmacutical Companies that make medication(including heart medication), and supplements, will also use hydrogenated oils for the coating on these pills. BTW hydrogenated oils are absolutely contraindicated in patients that have had a heart attack or have heart disease in the family.
    If your loved one dies because they consumed these oils, you have a case potentially against all the food manufacturers that used transfats, and also the FDA for allowing this stuff in our diet. In Canada the requirements for labeling Zero Transfat is more stringent they only allow 2% for the label to say zero. Makes you wonder if the FDA is really protecting your health or some lobbyist’s client’s wallet.

    The only way to stop manufacturers and Pharmaceutical companies from poisoning us is to boycott all goods that have trans fat. Remember that Pharmaceutical Companies like to sell us expensive pills for all kinds of problems caused by transfats. They are also the ones that are saying do not get your pills from foreign countries because these medicines were not cleared by FDA, even though the medicines were made in the USA.
    Also things like fortune cookies, doughnuts especially the glazed, cake icing and decorative candy(watch your kids that go to a birthday party and eat this stuff) bread that needs lots of shelf life are loaded in transfats. You’d be surprised how much of your favourite food is actually poisoning you. You need to look at the label, educate your children, and just say no.

    For the diabetic patient, yes the artificial creamers are trans fat and you should stay away from these things even coffie, drink green tea. For the rest of us you need to either use milk or half and half(much better than milk)with coffee.

    I have a Private Dental Practice in Los Angeles California, and have a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry.

  9. Lynn Cameron

    Thank you so much, Dr. Vasserman, for taking the time to give that good explanation. The very best thing to drink in coffee,imho, is organic heavy cream, unhomogenized and raw, from pastured cows. Very little is needed for good color and taste. In fact, my morning wake-up drink is a spoonful of maple (or agave) syrup made into a paste with another spoonful of organic powdered dark chocolate and an oz. or less of heavy cream. Stir in fresh-brewed organic coffee, and just a single mug is supremely satisfying. Have this only in the a.m., though.


  10. Diane Vigil

    I’d like to thank you too, Dr. Vasserman, for your illuminating remarks. It’s interesting that the FDA has allowed itself to be prohibited from requiring essential consumer warnings … which should be the other way around, since the FDA *is* the government agency responsible for protecting consumers. For shame.

  11. George Vigil

    Lynn, I vascillate from swilling coffee to drinking none. And our coffee is organic. And since our heavy cream is used for ice cream, I consider it too expensive to use in my coffee, I tend to time my coffee swilling to the times we open a new half gallon of raw, organic milk, where the cream has risen to the top. It’s very sweet. I also enjoy long drinks of cold organic milk.

  12. Lynn Cameron

    George, I know what you mean about delicious raw milk. I never am so thirsty for it as when I’ve just consumed the last bit in the ‘fridge and it’s a couple days until my next farm trip to get it!

    Of course, here in NY, one has to travel to a Certified Dairy to buy it legally, and they have to post a huge sign that warns customers that raw milk is hazardous to health. This after I’ve inhaled pesticide fumes past farms on my drive there. Go figure.

  13. Diane Vigil

    I do know what you mean, Lynn. I’ve driven up through California’s central valley a number of times (up to Fresno) — and you can definitely smell the pesticides. Yuck.

  14. Linda Ropr

    Looks like a great read on fats, and in plain language. Very understandable. There is a major player missing in your deck of cards though….\"Fully Hydrogenated\" fats. I started to study this because I am starting up a little micro biz and one of the things I make is frosted gluten free cut out cookies. In the frosting I use shortening. So I bought the Crisco that said \"0grams of trans fat\" on the front. Yet when I read the ingredients list, it lists fully hydrogenated fats. I was confused. So I did some research and read through several scientific articles and such, and it seems that by fully hydrogenating the fat it becomes a saturated fat. This still scares me, though everyone seems to just accept this as ok. It is not the way mother nature intended. And as we are seeing or should see by now, when we go against mother nature it rarely turns out to be good. Have you read up on this fully hydrogenated stuff?

  15. Linda Ropr

    Another consideration came to mind. The reason we want to use milk from cows that are fed on pasture and milk that is not homogenized (or had the fat broken up into pieces so it stays mixed up in the milk)is (from what I’ve been studying) because most milk cows live in stalls all their life, have their tails cut off, are in unclean conditions, and never see a blade of grass. They produce milk that is not chemically the same as milk produced by real cows in real environments, and researchers are finding this is a harmful digression from what milk should be. Also, breaking open the fat first, releases an acid that causes inflamation in our arteries and encourages plaque buildup, and second, makes those fats digenst into our systems where left in their natural state they would be too large to digest for the most part, and third, pasturization eliminates the enzymes that assist our bodies in digestion of the milk. Another interesting note I learned from reading about fats, is that milk contains opiates that give us a good feeling, hence drinking milk at night to relax and sleep. These opiates it said in one article can be a bit addictive. So we get a little addicted to milk.

  16. Linda Ropr

    oh, and I remembered one more thing I read that you may find of interest. Since oils with omega acids get rancid right away, but they are what the consumers are willing to pay bigger bucks for….well, the producers of those beans and seeds that are the sources of the oils with omegas are getting their beans and seeds genetically changed to produce less omegas. Tricky tricky tricky. Underhanded, humans treating other humans with inhumanity just to get money.

  17. George Vigil

    Hi Linda,

    I agree with you about not going against mother nature in most cases.

    And I’m afraid Crisco is either misinformed about what is meant by transfats and partially hydrogenated oils. Or it is just plain false advertising on Crisco’s part. Transfats ARE partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogen has been added to the fat or oil.

    In Nourishing Traditions, a cookbook by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., transfats/partially hydrogenated oils are fully exposed as health risks down to the atomic level.

    Any hydrogenated (to a greater or lesser degree) oil or fat is bad for one’s health.

    I didn’t know that genetically modified seeds were being produced in the omega seeds and beans now.

    It’s getting harder and harder to produce healthy food as well as consuming it.

    George Vigil

  18. Linda Roper

    Crisco isn’t the only one touting that fully hydrogenated fats are the same as saturated fats. Take a look at the American Heart Associations web site look under FAQs and go down to the question “What is the difference between partially hydrogenated oils and fully hydrogenated oils?”
    Answer reads “Hydorgenation is the process by which liquid vegetable oil is turned into solid fat. Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. However, when liquid vegetable oil is fully hydrogenated, almost no trans fats remain. Full hydrogenation increases the amount of saturated fats, mostly in the form of stearic acid. Stearic acid does not raise levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This makes fully hydrogenated fats less harmful than partially hydrogenated fats.”
    There is another at go to Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats-Nutition in the News, the right side column reads “Fully Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Exposing liquid oils rich in unsaturated fats to hydrogen gas for a longer time yields a hard, waxy, fully hydrogenated fat. This means it has become a saturated fat, and is completely trans-fat free. Blending unprocessed liquid vegetable oil with such fully hydrogenated vegetable oils yields a semi-solt fat that is trans fat free and can be used for margerines, baking, and other types of cooking.”
    They just keep finding ways to get around doing the right thing, because it costs more to do the right thing.

  19. Diane Vigil

    I see what you’re saying, Linda. For myself, I don’t see that “less harmful” equals “good”.

  20. Gerri Fehrle

    All the information was very helpful. I still have a question about products that list saturated fats, trans fats, Polyunsat and monunsat numbers that do not add up to the total fat in the item. Such as \"Back to Nature\" choc chip cookies. There is a difference of 0.05. Could this number be trans fats that are not accounted for on the box? How does this affect the consumer?

  21. Butter versus margarine – are they good for you?

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  23. Mimi

    You mention that Lauric Acid, an essential fatty acid (EFA) absolutely required for healthy nervous systems. If heat deactivates its beneficial action. Then how can you use coconut oil. I would like to cook my popcorn with it like I did when I was a kid. Please Help.

  24. Diane Vigil

    Sorry for the delay, Mimi. In any case, I’m no doctor, but if you need to cook something, I’d say to go ahead and cook it. That doesn’t prevent you from eating more of the same, but uncooked.

  25. Lynn Cameron

    Hello Mimi, if you’re still there –
    I use a WestBend Stir Crazy to pop my organic corn (organic, for a little while longer, at least, means non-GMO) in Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil from the Phillipines that I buy from It’s naturally refined w/o solvents; not hydrogenated, contains no trans-fatty acids; is high in lauric acid. It is ‘stable’ at corn-popping temperatures with no coconutty taste.

    Another great healthy oil site is where I can buy a nice combo of palm & coconut oil sold as Popcorn Oil. You can get it seperately or in a kit with delicious white organic popcorn and a really great reduced sodium Popcorn Seasoning mix to shake on.

    I’m given credit by all who’ve enjoyed what is absolutely my favorite snack food for serving the most delicious popped corn they’ve ever tasted. I add melted butter – carefully browned (admitedly not the healthiest way to treat butter) – to every batch and sometimes parmesan/romano grated cheese.

    Both sites above have excellent information on the health benefits of coconut and reliably market online a large range of excellent quality coconut products.


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