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Crisco is a popular all-vegetable shortening product used as a substitute for butter or lard in baking recipes. In recent years, vegetable-based margarines and shortenings have come under scrutiny for their contribution of trans fats, a fat now found to affect blood cholesterol more severely than naturally occurring saturated fats 2. Crisco now claims to provide 0 g trans fats per serving 2.
Proctor & Gamble introduced Crisco vegetable shortening in 1911, and it was sold as an economical substitute for animal fat and butter. It was the first hydrogenated vegetable oil product sold, it was shelf-stable all year-round, and it would stay solid at room temperature. It also had a higher smoke point than oil, and it could be heated to a higher temperature without burning. Because of its stability and relatively low cost, hydrogenated vegetable oils are used widely in commercially baked products, the Mayo Clinic states 2.
Hydrogenation is a process that involves changing a liquid oil into a solid fat. This is achieved by forcing hydrogen gas onto vegetable oil while it is heated. It is combined with a nickel-based catalyst that helps mix the hydrogen and oil. The more hydrogen forced onto the oil, the more hydrogenated it becomes. Fully hydrogenated oil, Cargill states, is very solid and difficult to use. Partially hydrogenated oil is softer and easier for household use.
Partially hydrogenated fats allow for the creation of trans fats 2. This is because the process changes the chemical structure of the fat, turning it from a "cis" shape to a "trans" shape. The American Heart Association explains that trans fats raise the LDL cholesterol levels while lowering the HDL cholesterol levels 12. Because of its role in raising "bad" cholesterol while decreasing "good" cholesterol, trans fats have been associated with developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes 2. It has also been linked to a higher risk of stroke.
Safe Level of Trans Fats
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 1 percent of your total calories in the form of trans fats 12. For people following a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 20 calories, or 2 g, trans fat. These numbers include the naturally occurring fats from dairy, beef and lamb, so avoid commercially processed trans fats, the AHA states 2. The Mayo Clinic adds that you need to carefully read the nutrition facts panels and the ingredients of processed foods because federal law allows manufacturers to report 0 g trans fats per serving as long as the product provides less than 0.5 g per serving 2. If you consume more than one serving, you might be eating more than 0.5 g trans fats in one sitting 2.
New Crisco Formula
In response to the discoveries about trans fats, many manufacturers have changed their products to provide fewer trans fats 2. According to Crisco, all of the shortening products have 0 g trans fats per serving 2. An examination of the ingredients of the all-vegetable shortening reveals that it contains soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils, and stabilizers. One serving of shortening is 1 tbsp. Because of the presence of partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils, trans fats are likely present in portions larger than 1 tbsp 2. A three-dozen cookie recipe usually contains 1 cup shortening, so each cookie would contain about one-half tbsp. shortening. If you eat more than one cookie, it is possible you're consuming at least 0.5 g trans fats 2.
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