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An In-depth Look Into Hydrogenated Oils and Saturated Fats

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Unhealthy palladium hydrogenated oil chemistry chemical reaction

Shortening. The most common hydrogenated oil is something many Americans use and consume everyday. But why is shortening solid at room temperature? Why shortening and not butter? What actually is a hydrogenated oil? Are hydrogenated oils really that bad for you? This blog post covers answers to these questions and more.

Hydrogenated oils come from, well, a chemical reaction called hydrogenation, occurring between molecular hydrogen and another element of compound. These reactions are usually catalyzed by nickel or palladium, but in the case of oil, this is with palladium. This reaction saturates compounds, this is where we get the word "saturated fats" that doctors tell you to worry about. More on this later.

Like explained above, hydrogenated oils are oils that have undergone the chemical reaction of hydrogenation. In chemistry, liquid oils are known as alkenes (the reactants of this reaction) and alkanes are saturated fats (products of this reaction).

Example of this reaction:

H2C=CH2 + H2 → CH3CH3

Alkene + Hydrogen → Alkane

Why Are Saturated Fats Bad For You?

Other than excess carbohydrates, reducing unhealthy fats are the second most recommended dietary change in a person's lifestyle. Saturated fats can raise levels of LDL cholesterol, that over time, can cause a build of plaque in arteries. As plaque accumulates, a wall inside the artery forms, decreasing blood flow and increasing blood pressure. This is why most cases of hypertension stem from an unhealthy lifestyle. If an artery gets blocked, this can cause a blood clot. If this clot occurs in the coronary arteries, this is called a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or if the clot travels down stream, say to the brain, it's a stroke.

But why does the chemistry behind saturated fats cause this unhealthiness?

Saturated fats are called "saturated" because each carbon molecule is bonded to a hydrogen one, hence they are hydrogenated or saturated in hydrogen. Because saturated fats are so tight and have so many bonds, they group together very tightly, and when they enter the bloodstream, they are incredibly effective in blocking vessels.

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