What is Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening?

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Vegetable oil is healthy before it is hydrogenated – a process that requires adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats.

Oils that are often hydrogenated are soybean oil, corn oil and cottonseed oil. After healthy oils are hydrogenated, they are unhealthy because they are high in trans fats.

Uses for Hydrogenated Shortening

After its introduction in 1911, hydrogenated shortening became very popular. It was used as a replacement for lard, an animal fat used for frying foods. Hydrogenated shortening can also be used for baking, and it is known to make flaky pie crust and soft cookies. It was believed that the new shortening was a healthy substitute for butter as well as for lard. Brands like Crisco were economical because they could sometimes be used again after frying foods. The hydrogenation process gives shortening a long shelf life so that it can be stored for many months.

The Dangers of Trans Fats

As you probably know, trans fats are known for contributing to high cholesterol and coronary heart disease. For this reason, hydrogenated shortening should not be used for cooking or baking. Processed foods are required to label trans fats in foods, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Limiting the amount of saturated fat that you eat is also important to having a healthy cholesterol level and to avoiding coronary heart disease.

Small amounts of trans fats are present in other natural foods, not just in those made with hydrogenated shortening. Dairy products and red meat naturally contain trans fats. When considering how much trans fat is in your diet, it is important to count trans fats from natural foods as well. The American Heart Association recommends eating fewer than 2 grams of trans fat per day.

Healthier Alternatives

According to the Mayo Clinic, eating healthy oils that are in a liquid state rather than solid like shortening is a healthy way to cook and bake. Olive oil, safflower oil and peanut oil are a few of the healthy oils that can be used to replace shortening. Eating nuts instead of potato chips, nonhydrogenated peanut butter and foods with healthy fats should be substituted for hydrogenated shortening.

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