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You Ask, I Answer: Hydrogenated/Interesterified Fats

Thanks for explaining all about trans fats.

I have a question, though.

I have recently seen hydrogenated oils on Crisco food labels (not “partially hydrogenated”, but “hydrogenated”.)

Are these also trans fats?

– Patrick Altug
Boulder, CO

No, they are not.

Whereas the partial hydrogenation of a liquid oil transforms its chemical structure in such a way that yields a solid, yet pliable texture (i.e.: easy to spread on toast,) full hydrogenation results in a solid mass that you can’t do much with.

So, in an attempt to remove trans fat from their formulations, many products will interesterify fats.

In this process, solid oils and liquid oils are combined in vats, hydrogenated, broken down to their most basic form (triglycerides) and later manipulated/reconstructed in order to achieve a desired consistency.

Unfortunately, these fats come at a price.

Recent research studies in the United Kingdom and Malaysia have found that interesterified fats decrease HDL (“good” cholesterol), raise blood sugar, and, perhaps more worrying, suppress the secretion of insulin.

Why the worry?

Raising blood sugar while lowering levels of insulin (the hormone that moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells) is certainly a rather powerful risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Although many people roll their eyes at this bit of news and often make statements like, “Are these dietitians EVER satisfied with anything? If it’s not trans fats, it’s something else,” there is an important lesson in all of this — stick with unadulterated fats!

Whether partially or fully hydrogenated, those fat molecules have been chemically altered.

A diet rich in minimally processed foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats) won’t include either type of hydrogenated oils.



  1. Andy Bellatti said on September 28th, 2008


    If you enjoy margarine, your best best is one that does not have the word “hydrogenated” (partially or otherwise) on the ingredient list.

    Smart Balance spreads, for instance, do not contain fully or partially hydrogenated oils.

  2. CDW said on September 28th, 2008

    I’m confused by this post. What kind of margarine should I buy?

  3. everythingvegetarian said on September 28th, 2008

    Do you use any sort of butter-type spread? If so, what do you use?

  4. Anonymous said on September 30th, 2008

    How am I supposed to make cookies? Huh?

  5. Anonymous said on October 21st, 2008

    Buy Spectrum brand (either non-organic or organic) shortening or find recipies that use butter so that you do not need to use hydrogenated anything for baking! Some things can even be made with olive oil or another healthy oil instead of shortening or butter.

  6. Ross said on February 8th, 2010

    The more solid fats like shortening and butter, which are made of either trans fat or saturated fat, help baked goods out with either being crispy or give some a nice flake. My partner doesn’t like Smart Balance, as he says it’s not spreadable. So we get Promise since it spreads. I like Smart Balance and it works well for me.

    Saturated and Trans fats both are culprits in raising LDL Cholesterol to harmful levels. There is also data showing that they can lower HDL as well. Keep your intake of both to a minimum. Saturated fats are harder to avoid as they occur naturally along with healthier fats, especially in nuts and seeds.

  7. MM said on April 6th, 2010

    Andy, in your response to CDW,

    “If you enjoy margarine, your best best is one that does have the word “hydrogenated” (partially or otherwise) on the ingredient list.

    you meant to say one that does NOT have the word “hydrogentated” …correct?

  8. Andy Bellatti said on April 6th, 2010

    Argh, these things happen when you’re your own editor! :)

    Thank you for noticing that typo — will fix now.

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