Sunday, August 1, 2010
The Döbereiner's Lamp, invented in 1823, is credited as being the first table-top cigarette lighter, but it also had important scientific applications in the laboratory.
The French chemist Paul Sabatier used Döbereiner's Lamp to demonstrate the first-ever examples of deliberately induced hydrogenation in the lab, which quickly opened up a whole can of worms for industry and the public health. Hydrogenation is a process in which a catalyst is used to saturate a substance with hydrogen atoms.
Hydrogenation is done to food products such as edible oils, the fatty acids in the oil grow more dense as they acquire some of the hydrogen. If you keep going until the substance is fully hydrogenated, you end up transforming the liquid oil into a solid made from the liquid oil. However, if you stop the process halfway through, the result is a semi-solid, a paste, a spread. This is that substance you've seen on a kazillion products at the store: partially hydrogenated oil.
This paste is used to stretch out products like peanut butter, so that you're really mostly just eating that paste rather than peanut, and you don't even realize it. In other products, such as margarine, the paste is the product itself, and you're encouraged to use it instead of butter. For half a century now, the public has had it hammered into their heads that butter is bad for you and therefore this partially hydrogenated chemical paste is actually something you should want to put into your body for health purposes. Black is white. Up is down. Night is day.
The fact is, partially hydrogenated oil is far cheaper to use as an ingredient than butter and lard and beef tallow, and that's what initially drove the food industry en masse towards total hydrogen hell.
(Photo above: 1930s Skippy peanut butter can, from the collection of Roadsidepictures.)
Hydrogenated oils contain high levels of trans fats, which are every bit as toxic to the human system as cyanide. This has been known for years and yet most of the products on supermarket shelves are loaded with the stuff. And yet people wonder why obesity, depression, arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and general poor health are on the rise. Our bodies have no natural way to deal with grand-scale consumption of trans fats, because trans fats have never existed on Earth in these quantities until now - it began in the 19th century and by the mid-20th, this unholy paste was omnipresent.
Go into your kitchen and start looking for hydrogenation in the ingredients - you'll find it everywhere. It's often there even when you don't see it listed, hidden under terms such as "mono- and di-glycerides". In order to rid yourself of these poisons, you'd have to completely abandon your current lifestyle and throw away almost all the foods you love. Small wonder that almost nobody is.
I'm not a crusader. I'm not a food cop telling you what to eat. I still eat the stuff myself - how can I not? It's in practically everything. I'm just telling you to be aware that it is literally killing me and killing you, slowly, gradually, but certainly. Make your plans and sculpt your worldview accordingly.