A Tale of Trans Fats

Bring up your opinion on nutrition, and you're in for a gamble. Bring up your opinion on good vs. bad dietary fat, and you're betting the whole farm.



A Bad Fat We Can Agree On

If you do decide to talk about nutrition, start on a topic that everyone can agree on : trans fats.

Even the FDA is on board with giving trans fats the boot.


The Trans Fat History Book

The process of hydrogenation was developed in the early 20th century by a German scientist.

A few years later, in 1911, Procter & Gamble introduced the first hydrogenated shortening — Crisco!

Fun fact: the name Crisco was derived from ‘crystallized cottonseed oil’. And yes, the beloved Crisco is over 100 years old.


With Good Intentions

During the Great Depression and WWII, the supply of butter was limited.

And, at the same time, there was a sudden import of soybeans.

Shortage of butter + supply of soybeans = Production of trans fats or hydrogenated oil

With all the best intentions, hydrogenated oil was introduced as a cost-effective substitute to saturated fat.

Trans fats seemed to have many benefits:

  1. Stable and solid at room temperature
  2. Longer shelf-life
  3. Texture and taste not compromised

And while trans fats are man-made, the process begins with a 'natural oil'. This natural oil is a processed polyunsaturated vegetable oil like corn, soy, cottonseed or canola oil.


The Mechanical Process

Through a process of injecting hydrogen into the polyunsaturated fat (hydrogenation), the hydrogen atom at the double bond location(s) is rearranged.

This movement of one hydrogen atom at the double bond to the opposite side of the double bond creates a trans configuration. Trans in latin means "on the opposite side".

This whole process straightens the fatty acid and allows the fatty acid chains to be compact.

This produces a hardened oil.

Hello Crsico, goodbye butter! <--- NOT GOOD!


Effects on Our Body

So, now what? What effect does this molecular structure change have on our body?

Trans fatty acids are sufficiently similar to natural fats that the body readily incorporates them into the cell membrane; once there their altered chemical structure creates havoc with thousands of necessary chemical reactions—everything from energy provision to prostaglandin production.”

-Weston A. Price Foundation's "


Other processed oils to avoid

  • Canola    
  • Cottonseed    
  • Corn   
  • Safflower
  • Shortenings    
  • Sunflower    
  • Soybean
  • Vegetable


How do we stay away from trans fats?

  1. Avoid margarine, shortening and processed foods intended for a long-shelf life.
  2. Look at your labels!

And also be aware of the 0.5 gram loophole. The Nutrition Facts Label can list ZERO grams of trans fats if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

84% of food products that contain trans fats carry a zero gram label.

So, double-check the Ingredients List and avoid “partially hydrogenated oils” or “hydrogenated oils”.

Stick with the real stuff -- butter, lard, duck fat, tallow, full-fat dairy, fattier cuts of meats and eggs!



1. Wikipedia. Trans fats. Retrieved on November 21, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_fat

2. LA Times. (2013, Nov). Rise and fall of trans fat: A history of partially hydrogenated oil. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-rise-and-fall-of-trans-fat-20131107-story.html

3. United States History. World War II Rationing. Retrieved from http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1674.html

4. The Weston A. Price Foundation. (2000, Jan). The Oiling of America. Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/the-oiling-of-america/

5. NPR. (2014, Aug). When Zero Doesn't Mean Zero: Trans Fats Linger In Food. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/08/28/343971652/trans-fats-linger-stubbornly-in-the-food-supply