Smorgasbord Health Column – Hydrogenated Fats in our Foods – and how to avoid them. Sally Cronin

In the last few years there has been a complete reversal by governments and experts on how much fat and carbohydrates we should be eating. The information and advice is often confusing but research is definitely coming down on the side of good fats.. and that we should be including enough of them in our diet to keep us mentally and physically well.

Later in the week I will reshare the post on Essential Fatty Acids which includes a very important component of our overall health – Omega – 3.  But first a look at the fats we should be avoiding…

Hydrogenated Fats in our Foods – and how to avoid them. Sally Cronin

As humans we have consumed red meat, eggs and dairy products for many thousands of years. It is only in the last century that medical science has been able to identify and put a name to many of our medical conditions which does not mean that they did not exist before.

There are no doubt heart attacks and other problems associated with dietary deficiencies or excess occurred in the past, but we will never really know their causes. We can only go on what we have discovered now and use that to our advantage by working to prevent conditions such as cholesterol, which are silent killers.

My grandfather was a master butcher. He dropped dead one Sunday morning; 50 years ago in the process of bending down to pick up his paper. He had eaten red meat not just once but often twice a day in large quantities. He was 95 years old and had never had a day sick in his life. He not only ate huge amounts of meat but he also ate lots of fresh vegetables and fruit from his garden. He ate butter, cheese and eggs from the local farm daily and drank lots of tea. His housekeeper cooked everything fresh everyday and did not buy any processed foods. He walked everywhere even in his 90’s and had a wonderfully healthy appetite until the day he died.

I would suggest that if a nutritionist today were analysing his daily intake of fats, carbohydrates and calories without knowing his personal details, they would probably be horrified and assume that he was overweight and loaded with cholesterol. So what might be the difference between this robust healthy man eating all the cholesterol-laden foods daily and our diet today that is causing high levels of LDL cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and heart attacks? The answer lies in your packaged food products in your fridge or larder.

What is the real danger in our foods?

There is an estimated 50,000 foods that have hydrogenated fat as an ingredient. The average daily consumption is around 5gms and it only takes 1gm to elevate LDL (lousy cholesterol) levels.

Here are a few interesting facts that I have found out about the hydrogenated fats that are now such a huge part of our modern day lifestyle.

Western diets have always contained a relatively large amount of red meat; in fact evidence very strongly suggests that we ate only raw meat and fish from the very start of our existence.

In 1978 a Dr. Mary Enig proved that cancer rates were directly related to consumption of vegetable oils (including hydrogenated fats) and total fat intake, but NOT related to animal fat consumption. This has since been confirmed by other researchers who have undertaken very in depth studies.

Ischemic heart disease was virtually unknown until the 1940’s when hydrogenated fats were introduced.

Little or no research was undertaken before introducing hydrogenated fats into our diet as to the long-term effects they might have. In the last few years however, compelling evidence proves the negative effects of hydrogenated fats, especially for coronary heart disease. In fact it has been proved that it has the exact same effect as saturated fats on heart disease and in addition they raise the levels of LDL in the blood to a far greater extent than saturated fats whilst actively reducing the healthy cholesterol, HDL.

Hydrogenated fats are synthesised plastics that bear no relation to natural fats from plants or animals.

When the dangers were realised the food manufacturing industry began a marketing campaign that is still prevalent today that amplified the dangers of eating animal fats and promoted the healthy benefits of eating processed foods with LOW Fat contents.

How does Hydrogenation work?

Trans fatty acids or hydrogenated fats are created when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats. They do this by forcing hydrogen at a very high temperature (250-400degrees C) and pressure into the liquid oils usually with a catalyst such as nickel or platinum over a period of several hours. The hydrogen atoms attach themselves to the molecules in the liquid oil resulting in an unnatural mixture that becomes a trans fatty acid or hydrogenated fat.

Why do they do this when they could us natural plant oils and animal fats in their products?

Solid fat is easier to work with in food manufacture than liquid – think about making cakes, biscuits and pastry.
Shelf life is increased; one of the reasons they believe is that bacteria is too intelligent to eat the stuff so leave it alone.
It provides a cheaper source of fats for their products.

What about the impact on our bodies of consuming excessive amounts of hydrogenated fats?

We rely on a certain amount of fat in our diet to provide us with many nutrients that are essential for our growth and metabolism. B vitamins are essential for our health and are present in both animal protein and plant sources – if your entire diet comprises processed foods produced with this artificial fat then you will not be consuming sufficient of these nutrients. Vitamin E, which is in olive oil in abundance, is essential for fighting the effects of free radicals. This is another vital nutrient that would be lacking in your diet. Folate (growth and healthy cell reproduction), Biotin (normal growth, skin, hair, nerves and bone marrow health), Vitamin D (bone growth and balancing minerals such as calcium), Choline (brain health) Inositol (calcium metabolism and insulin) and Co-Enzyme Q10 (anti-oxidant and energy production) are just some of the nutrients that would be lacking in a totally processed food diet.

What foods are hydrogenated fats mainly found in?

The most common is of course margerines and other spreads that are not pure butter. They are hidden in most processed foods such as soups, crisps, crackers, biscuits, bread, pastries, pizza and even some cereals.

If you are buying pre-cooked fried foods it will more than likely have been prepared in hydrogenated fats such as Fish and chips, Fried chicken etc.

So do we stop eating all these foods that contain hydrogenated fats?

To be honest that would be virtually impossible. However, over the last nine months I have encouraged everyone who is following the healthy eating plan to dramatically reduce their intake of all processed foods. The emphasis has been on eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables with lean meat fish and poultry all prepared with home made sauces made from fresh ingredients.

That is a very good start. I use butter sparingly because there is no doubt that saturated fats if eaten in excess will have an effect on your general weight and health.

You cannot cut processed food out completely but do try and limit your intake. As I keep repeating – look at your labels when you are buying foods and think about what has actually gone into the manufacture of this particular delicacy is it real or manufactured?

Last year I teamed up with Carol Taylor for a six month series on Cooking from Scratch using fresh produce. I also included the health properties of the main ingredient to demonstrate how powerful an individual food can be.

We unfortunately have moved out of the kitchen into the supermarket for convenience and if we went back to my Grandfather’s lifestyle, every biscuit or cake he had with his afternoon tea was home-made using butter and eggs straight from the farm. His lifestyle was a combination of physical activity walking several miles per day and natural food products.

Simple really.

Next time the good fats and in particular Omega- 3 one of the Essential Fatty Acids.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from

And Amazon UK:

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4:

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally