Food Safety Facts: Soybean Oil and Processed Foods

30 Jan, 2013

by Dr. Mercola

Soybean oilProcessed food is perhaps the most damaging aspect of most people’s diet, contributing to poor health and chronic disease. One of the primary culprits is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the dangers of which I touch on in virtually every article on diet I write.

The second culprit is partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

These two ingredients, either alone or in combination, can be found in virtually all processed foods and one can make a compelling argument that the reliance on these two foods is a primary contributing factor for most of the degenerative diseases attacking Americans today.

Part of the problem with partially hydrogenated soybean oil is the trans fat it contains. The other part relates to the health hazards of soy itself. And an added hazard factor is the fact that the majority of both corn and soybeans are genetically engineered.

As the negative health effects from trans fats have been identified and recognized, the agricultural- and food industry have scrambled to come up with new alternatives.

Partially hydrogenated soybean oil has been identified as the main culprit, and for good reason. Unfortunately, saturated fats are still mistakenly considered unhealthy by many health “experts,” so rather than embracing truly healthful tropical fats like coconut oil, which is mostly grown outside the US. The food industry has instead turned to domestic US alternatives offered by companies like Monsanto, which has developed modified soybeans that don’t require hydrogenation.

Why Hydrogenate?

Americans consume more than 28 billion pounds of edible oils annually, and soybean oil accounts for about 65 percent of it. About half of it is hydrogenated, as soybean oil is too unstable otherwise to be used in food manufacturing. One of the primary reasons for hydrogenating oil is to prolong its shelf life. Raw butter, for example, is likely to go rancid far quicker than margarine.

The process also makes the oil more stable and raises its melting point, which allows it to be used in various types of food processing that uses high temperatures.

Hydrogenated oil is made by forcing hydrogen gas into the oil at high pressure. Virtually any oil can be hydrogenated. Margarine is a good example, in which nearly half of the fat content is trans fat. The process that creates partially hydrogenated oil alters the chemical composition of essential fatty acids, such as reducing or removing linolenic acid, a highly reactive triunsaturated fatty acid, transforming it into the far less reactive linoleic acid, thereby greatly preventing oxidative rancidity when used in cooking.

In the late 1990’s, researchers began realizing this chemical alteration might actually have adverse health effects. Since then, scientists have verified this to the point of no dispute.

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