5 Things to Know
Partial oil hydrogenation is a process that is used to optimize the functionality and shelf life of edible oils and fats. After several decades of use in the food supply, it has come under increased scrutiny for its role in the creation of trans fats and link to cardiovascular disease. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized its determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are no longer Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) in an effort to reduce health risks for consumers.
1. A historical glance at PHOs
PHOs have been an increasingly controversial ingredient. Starting in the 1990s, consumer advocacy groups start worrying about PHOs. Mounting scientific evidence shows a correlation between high levels of trans fat intake and higher ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol. In 2003, the FDA requires trans fat levels be declared on the Nutrition Facts panels of food products. Food manufacturers immediately begin reducing PHOs in their products. In 2006, the FDA’s 2003 decision takes effect and trans fat labeling is now mandatory in the U.S. In 2013, the FDA tentatively determines that PHOs are no longer GRAS. In 2015, the FDA finalizes its determination to revoke the GRAS status of PHOs. By June 18, 2018, PHOs may only be used with FDA approval as a food additive.
2. PHOs, trans fats and your food
Scientists agree that PHOs, as a source of trans fat, are unhealthy at higher levels of consumption. Since 2003, food manufacturers have reduced PHOs in their products by more than 80%, thus greatly reducing dietary exposure to trans fats. Whereas trans fats may be safe at lower levels of intake (e.g., below 3% of daily calories), research in this area is ongoing. The World Health Organization recommends limiting trans fat intake to less than 1%. For a typical diet of 2000 calories per day, 1% = 20 calories or approximately 2 grams of trans fat.
3. Alternatives to PHOs
A variety of alternatives have proven effective at replacing partially hydrogenated oils in food, including
• Naturally solid fats, such as palm and palm kernel oil
• Oils lower in saturates and high in monounsaturates, such as high oleic canola oil
• Emulsifiers and hard fractions of fat
• Interesterified oils, blends of liquid and fully hydrogenated or non-hydrogenated hardstocks
• Fully hydrogenated oils (FHOs)
4. The myth of FHOs vs. PHOs
A popular misconception is that “if partially hydrogenated oils are bad, fully hydrogenated oils must be worse.” Not so. FHOs are a better choice.
Here’s why: The partial hydrogenation process creates molecules within the so called ‘trans’ configuration, with hydrogen (H) atoms diagonally across from each other. That’s why they’re called ‘trans’ fats. FHOs become more saturated with hydrogen so virtually no trans fats are left. In terms of health effects, FHOs and PHOs are not the same either. Although FHOs may increase LDL cholesterol like PHOs and saturated fats, PHOs have also been shown to lower HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol.
5. Cargill trans fat replacement solutions
For more than 20 years, Cargill’s scientists have developed solutions for replacing PHOs without compromising flavor, texture, shelf life, and consistency in products consumers have come to love and trust. Cargill has been working with food manufacturers in and outside of the U.S. to provide safe and healthier alternatives to PHOs. Cargill has helped more than 300 manufacturing partners move away from PHOs without sacrificing quality since 2011.