All About Trans Fat

Have you heard of “trans fat,” “saturated fat” or “partially hydrogenated fat”?  You can thank Wilhelm Normann, a 19th-century German chemist and geologist whose birthday was celebrated last Friday.

Unsaturated compounds have more complex chemical bonds than saturated compounds, so their molecules cannot pack themselves together as tightly.  As a result, unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, and are thus also referred to as “oils.”

In 1901, Dr. Normann successfully converted an unsaturated (liquid) fatty acid into a saturated (solid) one by using hydrogen gas and nickel.  He had invented fat hydrogenation, or fat hardening.  By enabling oils and fats to be solid at room temperature, Normann had revolutionized the food industry.  Today, more than 15 million tons of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils and fatty acids are produced every year.  In addition to margarine, shortening and other edible fats, hydrogenated fats are also used in lubricants, cosmetics and soaps.

Partial hydrogenation can extend the shelf life of food products and reduce their need for refrigeration.  But it also results in the creation of trans fat, which can cause long-term health problems because it lowers “good cholesterol” (HDL) and raises “bad cholesterol” (LDL).

Since 2006, countries have required food labels to include specific trans fat content.  In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a preliminary determination that trans fat is “no longer generally recognized as safe.”  The United Kingdom predicts that 40,000 cardiovascular disease deaths per year could be prevented by eliminating industrial trans fat and lowering saturated fat intake.  But the elimination of trans fat remains a voluntary practice by the food industry.

Agilent is a recognized leader in solutions for food quality and food safety.  Agilent has developed an analytical column specifically for the detection and analysis of trans fat in foods.


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