November 15, 2007 at 3:24 pm
That’s exactly what I wanted to find out. When I wrote my blog on trans fats, entitled “The Evilest Loophole,” a kind person commented and told us all to look out for monoglycerides and diglycerides, saying that they were very similar to trans fat and could be considered the NEXT trans fat. I thought, hmm … I ought to look into this.
It turns out that just like trans fat (hydrogenated vegetable oils), mono- and diglycerides are everywhere! They’re found in many food products – but especially in bakery products like breads and bagels and pastries. Just look at the ingredient list on a bakery product and I can nearly guarantee that you’ll see mono- or diglycerides present in the list.
So what are mono- and diglycerides?
Well, almost all fat comes in the form of triglycerides, a term I’m sure you’ve heard of if you’ve been to the doctor recently – doctors like to check “triglyceride levels.” If you take a batch of triglycerides, which have three (thus the “tri-”) fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule, and mix them with the right chemicals, some of those fatty acid chains will dissociate from their glycerol molecule, resulting in mono- and diglycerides. A monoglyceride has one fatty acid attached to a glycerol molecule while a diglyceride has two fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule. Simple enough. But trans fats are simple enough, too, right? And they’re terrible for us! So what about mono- and diglycerides?
It’s really hard to say, actually. I didn’t come across any conclusive research that says either way. But I did find out what mono- and diglycerides ARE, and I’ll tell you and then let you decide if they sound natural and healthy or not.
Mono- and diglycerides are emulsifying agents – they are both hydrophilic (attracting water) and hydrophobic (repelling water), so they are soluble in both water AND fat, which makes them unique – but not necessarily natural. They are used to keep oils from separating out of products and used to increase shelf life – the same reasons that trans fats are used in most products. Just think of traditional peanut butter – it is smooth and creamy right out of the jar because the trans fat in it prevents the oil from separating out. In fact, you’ll find mono- and diglycerides in many varieties of peanut butter in addition to bakery products – and you’ll even find them in most margarines, another product where trans fat runs rampant.
It seems that trans fat and mono- and diglycerides go hand-in-hand – in fact, I used to see a particular brand of whole wheat lavash (tortilla-like bread) that used to have partially hydrogenated oil in it but now has mono- and diglycerides instead. Are food manufacturers taking out the trans fat and adding mono- and diglycerides to replace the trans fat? The compounds seem to work in the same way – they keep oils from separating out and they extend shelf life and help products taste more “smooth.” I really can’t help but think that trans fat and mono- and diglycerides are related – and thus equally dangerous.
You know what, though? There just isn’t enough research out there to tip the scales either way at this point. So even though I have become very wary of any product that contains mono- or diglycerides, I’m going to leave it up to you, loyal readers. You have the information now – you make the decision. Are mono- and diglycerides part of a healthy diet? Are they okay for human consumption? Are they the sneaky, underhanded cousins of trans fat?
I have my own suspicions. And like I said, I’m very wary now. What do you all think? What have you heard about mono- and diglycerides? Please comment!