Hydrogenated Oils and Seed Oils: What You Need to Know

Vegetable oils in their natural state are not hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a process that uses heat and chemicals to alter the structure of the fatty acids in the oil, making it more stable at higher temperatures or solid at room temperature (e.g., corn oil vs. margarine). This process changes the oil from a natural “cis” form to a new “trans” form.


Understanding the Basics:

What’s wrong with margarine? Why is butter better?


Natural Oils: Unsaturated oils found in nature are technically termed “cis” oils due to their unique structure, which usually makes them liquid at room temperature. Unprocessed vegetable oils and oils from nuts and seeds fall into this category.


Saturated Fats: These are primarily solid at room temperature and include animal fats, coconut oil, and palm oil.


Hydrogenated Oils: This chemical process converts vegetable oils to oils that can withstand higher temperatures or be solid, such as margarines. This conversion creates “trans” fatty acids, which are less digestible and more harmful to the body.


The Health Impacts: The Dangers of Hydrogenated Oils


“Trans” Fatty Acids: Handled by the body similarly to saturated fats but are more harmful. They are not normal components of tissues, cross the placenta, and are stored in fat tissue, causing long-term problems with cell membrane function.


Health Risks: “Trans” fats interfere with liver enzyme function and have been linked to elevated cholesterol levels, immune dysfunction, and an increased risk of certain cancers. They can hinder essential fatty acid utilization and disrupt normal biological functions.


Regulatory Actions: Due to these effects, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and health authorities in Britain and Canada have called for additional studies and have mandated relabeling of hydrogenated margarines and oils to distinguish them from “cis” oils.


Beyond Hydrogenation: The Seed Oil Issue


In addition to avoiding hydrogenated oils, recent studies suggest that many seed oils, even when not hydrogenated, may pose health risks due to their high omega-6 fatty acid content.


Imbalance in Fatty Acids: Most seed oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can disrupt the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the body. An imbalance can lead to chronic inflammation, contributing to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.


Oxidative Stress: Many seed oils are prone to oxidation when exposed to heat, light, or air. Oxidized oils can form harmful compounds that damage cells and tissues, leading to increased oxidative stress and inflammation.


Processing Concerns: The extraction and processing of seed oils often involve high heat and chemical solvents, which can degrade the oil’s nutritional quality and introduce harmful residues.


Recommended Oils:


Given the concerns associated with both hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated seed oils, we recommend focusing on a few safer options:


Coconut Oil: High in saturated fats, which are stable and less prone to oxidation. Good for cooking at high temperatures.


Grass-Fed Butter: Contains healthy saturated fats and fat-soluble vitamins.


Olive Oil: Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Ideal for low to medium-heat cooking and as a salad dressing.


Sesame Seed Oil: Can be used occasionally. Contains beneficial compounds but should not be a primary oil due to its omega-6 content.


Avocado Oil: High in monounsaturated fats and stable at higher temperatures. Good for cooking and dressings.


Flaxseed Oil: Can be used in moderation. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it can help balance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the diet.


Black Cumin Seed Oil: Contains thymoquinone, which has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties. It can be used in small amounts to add nutritional benefits.





Avoidance: Use unsaturated, non-hydrogenated “expeller-pressed” oils like olive, avocado, and occasionally sesame seed oil, flaxseed oil, and black cumin seed oil. Avoid all other seed oils and deep-fat frying. Use solid cooking fats like lard or coconut oil instead of margarine or Crisco.


Hydrogenated oils and many seed oils pose significant health risks. Opting for safer, non-hydrogenated oils and being vigilant about food labels can help mitigate these risks and promote better health outcomes.