June 17, 2015

The welcome news this week is that the US FDA has banned partially-hydrogenated oils, giving food manufacturers three years to reformulate their products or apply for permits to use partially-hydrogenated oil. The reason is that they’re acknowledging that the trans-fats in these oils contribute to cardiovascular disease.

The question we have to ask, despite this good news, is what will be the replacement?

Alternative processing methods have created fully-hydrogenated oils and interesterified oils. Neither of these types of oil contain trans-fats, yet what evidence is there that they are safe? When partially-hydrogenated oils were first used, the FDA thought they were probably safe and their use became widespread.

What if the alternative processing methods are just as bad, even if it’s in different ways? We don’t know yet, but there is reason to assume that the processing methods themselves will not enhance our health. Foods that have not been abundant in our food supply may have unforeseen effects when used regularly, just like partially-hydrogenated oils have now been shown.

Most people have been aware of trans-fats being dangerous, even if they didn’t know what the dangers were. As trans-fats had to be listed in the nutrition panel of foods containing them, consumers could make an informed choice about whether or not to use the product.

At this stage, there is no mandate to ensure consumers are warned about hydrogenated and interesterified oils. Labels don’t reflect the actual processing method of oil. These oils are often listed as ‘vegetable oil’, even if the original oil did not come from any vegetable.

Many will be concerned about how they can avoid potentially dangerous oils.

As many packaged multi-ingredient foods contain industrial oils, it makes sense to avoid manufactured foods such as margarine and butter-like spreads, fried foods, donuts, cookies, cakes, pastries, crackers, cereals, salad dressings and mayonnaise. It makes sense to avoid most of these foods, too, if you want to lose weight.

Instead, buy single ingredient foods so that you know exactly what’s in it. Then you can put ingredients together to make the foods you want – by cooking and preparing your own food.

When choosing oil, select those that are the least processed: olive oil, coconut oil, other nut oils, and butter are good options. Seed oils and vegetable oils have been heavily processed with heat, chemicals, deodorisers and bleaches to obtain the desired look and smell.

Eat fresh, natural foods and minimally processed oils, and the need for reading labels and making an effort to avoid potentially harmful oils won’t be a problem.