If the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announced ruling that trans fats are unsafe in foods results in bans, vegetable oils may make more inroads into the market.

“Most vegetable oils are free (or have minimal) trans fatty acids unless they are hydrogenated,” says Jenna Anding, Texas AgriLife Extension  associate department head and program leader – department of nutrition and food science and associate professor and Extension nutrition specialist inCollege Station. 

“Basically, if you hydrogenate (vegetable oils), you are adding hydrogen to the fatty acids in order to make them more saturated,” Anding said.  “If they are saturated, they are more shelf stable (which is good for the manufacturer) but you change the fatty acid content in the process and end up with trans fats (which are not good).

Thebottom line is that a lot of processed foods and a lot of fried foods have trans fats in them.  Some dairy and meat foods have trans fats (naturally present) but the amount is small.  Many food companies have already done this (removed trans fats) because we now know that trans fats are not good for us.”

Several vegetable oils offer good options, including cottonseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil, corn oil and soybean oil.

Cottonseed oil holds promise, says Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing for Cotton Incorporated in Cary, N.C.

Wedegaertner says other vegetable oils have tried to emulate cottonseed oil by manipulating linoleic acid levels to be “more like cottonseed oil.”

He said cottonseed oils’ “ability to last longer got around the problems of partially hydrogenated oils.”


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Following findings that trans fats may cause health problems, “cottonseed oil enjoyed new interest,” he said. “(Companies) turned to cottonseed oil, which has naturally good shelf life and stability in the fryer.” Shelf life and stability are reasons for partially hydrogenated oils, he added.

“The best way to get rid of partially hydrogenated oils is to replace them with cottonseed oil. If oils are not very stable and do not have very good shelf life, they will not be used.”

He says cottonseed oil has been used for more than 100 years as a “good frying oil.”  

A few facts about cottonseed oil:

  • Cottonseed oilis one of the few oils considered acceptable for reducing saturated fat intake. Cottonseed oil is among the most unsaturated oils. Others include safflower, corn, soybean, canola and sunflower seed oils.
  • Cottonseed oilhas a 2:1 ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids. Its fatty acid profile generally consists of 70 percent unsaturated fatty acids including 18 percent monounsaturated (oleic) and 52 percent polyunsaturated (linoleic) and 26 percent saturated (primarily palmitic and stearic).
  • Cottonseed oilis rich in tocopherols, natural antioxidants, which have varying degrees of vitamin E activity and contribute to stability, giving products that contain it a long shelf life.
  • Cottonseed oilis described by scientists as being "naturally hydrogenated" because of the levels of oleic, palmitic, and stearic acids. These make it a stable frying oil without the need for additional processing or the formation of trans fatty acids.