Heart disease is the single biggest killer of men and women in New Zealand. There are many factors contributing to heart disease including lack of exercise and obesity. There’s another I’d like to address here: trans fats.

In 1903 an American chemist named Wilhelm Normann discovered that by boiling cottonseed oil to temperatures over 260⁰C, it would solidify. Margarine was born. The multi-national corporation, Proctor & Gamble bought the rights to Mr Normann’s patent in 1909 and within a couple of years the company was marketing the first hydrogenated shortening. Until then housewives baked using completely natural products such as butter and lard.

The American product Proctor & Gamble launched was called Crisco and it was a huge success. My mother used it in baking as did countless others in their kitchens in North America. The raw ingredient originally found in Crisco was cottonseed oil but today is more often soybean oil. Cooks loved these hydrogenated oil products because they were cheap, easy to work with and had a long shelf-life.


Many deep-fried foods found in take away shops, cafes and restaurants have been cooked in these blocks of fat. They are used because they melt down easily, can be heated to high temperatures, and can be re-used many times.

Trans fats are found in many bakery goods such as cakes, biscuits and snack bars, even some so-called ‘healthy’ energy cereal bars. They are also hiding in salad dressings, chocolate and peanut butter spreads, many children’s cereals, frozen desserts, potato crisps, dried soup mixes and more.

Plenty of foods don’t contain trans fats including fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat, fish and poultry, milk, butter, yogurt and most cheeses, fresh eggs and uncooked grains and pastas.

Only in the last 20 years have we realised that the hydrogenating produces a damaging by-product: trans fatty acids.

One clinical health study found that increasing trans fat intake even in small amounts could raise the risk of heart disease by a factor of ten or twelve.


In the United States, experts believe that up to 100,000 lives a year could be saved if hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVOs) and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs) were removed completely from the American diet.

There is no such thing as a safe level of trans fats. The Danish government has banned the use of hydrogenated vegetable oil anywhere in the food production process. They did this beginning in March 2003 and within three years the country had seen deaths by heart disease drop by over twenty percent. That’s impressive.

How can you protect your family from trans fats? First, add more of the fresh and safe foods mentioned earlier to your diet. Second, put on your glasses and read the fine print in food labels and eliminate foods containing margarine, vegetable suet, vegetable oil solids, hydrogenated fat, HVO and PHVO. I wish you the best of health.

Related post: Geoffrey Morell: Staying Young on a Nutrient-Dense Diet

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: 

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

“The author’s experiments and experiences working with nature simply amaze. . . . Beyond the Search is a treasure trove for those who enjoy planting and reaping as it seems nature intended, with respect for each animal and insect as belonging on the planet and therefore deserving of honour.”

Theresa Sjoquist on Suite 101