My advice to you today is: stay away from hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. You may not be very happy with my next statement, but here it is anyway: do not patronize fast food places that use these types of oils.

Unfortunately, fast food restaurants have become distribution centers for partially hydrogenated oils. Those oils are part of dressings, sauces, sauté and fried meats, fried chicken, nuggets, fried potatoes, sandwiches, cooked vegetables, croutons, taco shells and burritos.

What is partially hydrogenated oil?

Partially hydrogenated oil is a fat obtained by artificial ways from vegetable oils. They contain trans fats, the stuff that the Institute of Medicine, on July 2002, declared a serious danger to the cardiac health of our nation, with a “tolerable upper intake level of zero”.

How is partially hydrogenated oil produced?

The manufacturing of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil goes through several stages:

  • Sunflower seeds, soybeans, corn, rapeseed (canola), safflower seeds or cottonseed, which yield fresh, pure vegetable oils, are crushed.
  • In their preparation to the hydrogenation process, the oils are refined with chemical solvents: deodorizing agents and bleaches. This process starts the destruction of the good fats in the oils.
  • Next, the oils are hydrogenated. A small amount of a metal, usually nickel, is added to speed up the chemical reaction.
  • The hydrogenation process is completed by adding hydrogen gas under very high pressure and very high heat.
  • This “cooking” changes the chemical configuration of the oil which becomes a solid fat. In other words, it becomes a saturated fat, ready to be part of a manufactured cookie, cake, or chicken nugget.

Why food manufacturers love hydrogenated oils

To food manufacturers, hydrogenated oils are a dream come true. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • They are inexpensive to manufacture
  • They are flavorless-flavor and taste are added later
  • They have a long shelf life. Shelf life is how long a box of crackers, cookies, chips, cereal, bread, or pizza crust can sit at the store before becoming rancid. Foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can last a long time, sometimes years, before they become stale.

In a fast food restaurant, it is the hydrogenation of the frying oil that makes your fries, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets crispy. It is hydrogenation that allows the cooking oil for frying to be reused repeatedly and makes it unnecessary to refrigerate many salad dressings and sauces. Doesn’t this sound great for fast food restaurant owners?

Yes, hydrogenation is a dream for the food industry, but it is a nightmare for your health and that of your family.

What hydrogenated oils can do to us

Our cells cannot distinguish between real fat and manufactured trans fats. Thus when you eat food that contains trans fats, the fat molecules are absorbed by your cells. Once the trans fats are in place inside the cell, the cell’s metabolism is altered.

Many scientific studies have shown that this alteration is a major hazard for our arteries and the heart by causing the following:

  • Damage to LDL, the bad cholesterol
  • Lowers HDL, the good cholesterol
  • The stiffening of the arteries
  • An increase of coronary heart disease

Just say no to fast food places

Fast food places are important centers for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Remember that trans fats are found in dressings and sauces, and in most of the foods you can get at fast food restaurants. Actually, the only food free of trans fats you can find at those restaurants is the salad bar. However, make sure you check the dressing and hold the croutons.

If you really need to go to a fast food place for whatever reason, ask the cooks, the chef, the manager or whoever is in charge to allow you to check the containers the cooking oil arrives in from the distributor. Chances are the cooks or management don’t have a clue about partially hydrogenated oils so you can take this opportunity to educate them.

In addition to partially hydrogenated oils, keep in mind that fast food is loaded with sodium and calories. You may want to read my article “How to survive the food and calories at fast food restaurants”. You can also register for my newsletter and download a list of calories, fats, sodium, and carbohydrates at fast food restaurants.

Final Word

If you already have heart disease or diabetes, take the necessary steps to avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. When buying packaged food, read the ingredients and look for these vegetable oils. When eating out, look for better quality restaurants.

Better restaurants will seldom use partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. As we said before, ask the necessary questions to make sure the ingredients they are using are healthy ones. Once you find those restaurants, stick to them.


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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