Monoglycerides and diglycerides are food additives commonly used to combine ingredients containing fats with those containing water, two types of ingredients that don't ordinarily combine well. Food manufacturers typically use them to extend a product's shelf life. Made in part of fatty acids, they are similar to triglycerides, the predominant fat in food according to the Harvard School of Public Health, except they are classified as emulsifiers rather than lipids.
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According to registered dietitian Mary Beth Sodus of the University of Maryland Medial Center, trans fats have been associated with increased risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They promote inflammation and obesity; raise LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels; and lower HDL, or good, cholesterol levels. Made up in part of fatty acids, mono- and diglycerides may contain trans fats, either when manufactured in a lab or, if they come from an animal or vegetable source, when exposed to heat for processing into packaged and prepared foods.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring that all food manufacturers list a food's trans fat content on the label. This law applies to lipids, like triglycerides, but not to emulsifiers like mono- and diglycerides. Therefore, even though mono- and diglycerides may contain trans-fatty acids, they do not fall under these labeling requirements. This means a food may be labeled as possessing "0% trans fat" yet still contain trans-fatty acids from mono- and diglycerides.
Many different chemicals may be used in the process of manufacturing mono- and diglycerides that are still present in the final product. Among the most prevalent of these is hardened palm oil, or palm oil exposed to hydrogen and high temperatures, a process that forms trans fats. Other possible compounds added in the making of mono- and diglycerides include nickel, tartaric acid, synthetic lactic acid, ricinus fatty acids and sodium hydroxide, each of which may pose health risks of its own. Unfortunately, insufficient study has been done on the potential health dangers of these compounds.
Foods Containing Mono- and Diglycerides
Mono- and diglycerides are typically found in packaged and prepared foods. What's more, the packaged and prepared foods that commonly contain mono- and diglycerides are some of the least healthy food products on the market, including baked goods, soft drinks, candy, gum, whipped cream, ice cream, margarine and shortening.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; "Trans Fats 101"; November 2010
- Harvard School of Public Health; The Nutrition Source: Fats and Cholesterol; 2011
- FDA.gov; "Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide"; October 2009
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Questions About Food Ingredients
- TreeLight.com; "What's Wrong With Mono- and Di-Glycerides?"; Eric Armstrong