If you ask a biologist, the answer is “nothing at all”. But wait until you find out how food manufacturers are using those terms to sneak trans fats into your diet — quietly sabotaging your health in their quest for profit. (This article also contains information on BHA and BHT.)
Originally published 2009
When I wrote What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils? in 1998, I was very afraid that as soon as the public began to find out about the danger of partially hydrogenated oils, food companies will simply call it something else. I thought that fear was put to rest when the FDA required trans fats to be listed on the label. But it appears that trans fats in mono- and di-glycerides don’t have to be listed!
Robin Jutras first brought this subject to my attention in Mono-Diglycerides: Just a New Name to Disquise An Old Silent Killer. Then it was brought to my attention once again by Gerard Lally, and my awareness was recently re-engaged when Shauna Henry asked some good questions. So it was time to do some investigating.
In Mono- and Di-Glycerides, fat-and-oil expert Mary Enig writes:
“A mono-glyceride (MG) is made of one fatty acid attached to glycerol, a di-glyceride (DG) is made of two fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule, and a triglyceride is made of three fatty acids attached to glycerol.
The “triglyceride” is what we normally think of as a lipid (a fat or an oil, depending on the temperature). The other two are used as emulsifiers, because:
“One end (the fatty acid) is fat-soluble and the other end (the glycerol) is water soluble.
An emulsifier is something that binds with both fat and water, so it produces a smooth mixture of the two. If you add oil to water, you’ll see the oil floating in little puddles. (If it were a fat, it would be sitting in clumps.) But when you add an emulsifier and stir, you get a smooth, consistent mixture of the two.
But all three substances — triglycerides, diglycerides, and monoglycerides — are composed of fatty acids, and all three may contain trans fats, when those fatty acids are subjected to high-heat processing.
But the industry only has to report trans fat content from triglycerides — not from monoglycerides or diglycerides. But trans fats are inevitably formed in when mono- and diglycerides are manufactured. (That’s right. Manufactured. Not grown or harvested, but constructed in the lab like Frankenstein — just like partially hydrogenated oils.)
While acknowledging that current trans fats levels from emulsifiers are low, Mary Enig expresses a concern that I share:
“As the public becomes more aware of the dangers of trans fats, the industry may be tempted to add more monoglycerides and diglycerides (to get the same amount of fat) without having to list trans fats on the label.
We already know that the industry is playing games with serving sizes to keep trans fats under 1/2 a gram per “serving”, which allows them to claim “zero” trans fat for products that aren’t. (See What’s Wrong with Trans Fats Labels?) So how much longer will it be before “emulsifiers” are used to increase the fat count and improve the texture of foods, without having to report any of the trans fats they contain?
In a series of private messages, Gerard Lally summarized things rather well when he wrote:
Mono and Di Glycerides are emulsifiers made from fatty acids. They are the basis for many synthetic emulsifiers. They are usually made with hardened Palm oils. The process involves heating the oil for up to 3 hours at high temperature and passing hydrogen gas through it in the presence of a metal catalyst. [Eric: That is when trans-fats are formed.]
Over the past few years I have written to a number of government agencies in the UK, to bring to their attention the potential dangers of synthetic emulsifiers. They replied that manufacturers have to adhere to the guidelines, and that only small amounts are used in human foods. They gave no consideration to the accumulated effect of these man-made products. But other factors such as improved shelf life, better texture, and enhanced appearance were cited as proof that they were useful and needed.
The following chemical compounds are used in the manufacture of emulsifiers: Nickle, sodium hydroxide, anhydrous acetic acid, tartaric acid, ricinus fatty acids, glycerol, synthetic lactic acid…. to mention but a few. But I do not believe that those additives are good for us.
In the choice between iImproved shelf life and better health, it is clear where our government stands. But I don’t think these chemicals belong in our bodies.
So when you see the terms “monoglycerides” and “di-glycerides” on a food product, your getting an unknown and unreported quantity of trans fats. And oh, yes, watch out for BHA and BHT, as well. (See the sidebar).
In fact, labels are so full of things to avoid that I think Dr. Mark Hyman (author of The UltraMind Solution) has it right when he says to avoid foods that have labels! His take: “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it!” (There are exceptions, though. If you look at a Korean food label, you’ll see maybe 5 ingredients — and they’re all food. No petroleum derivatives disguised as edible substances.)
BHA and BHT: Other Preservatives to Avoid
Gerard Lally also sent me these excerpts from an article on BHA:
- A petroleum derivative that retards spoilage due to oxidation.
- BHA is used in edible oils, chewing gum, fats, margarine, nuts, instant potato products and polyethylene food wrappers.
- Not permitted in infant foods.
- May provoke an allergic reaction in some people and may trigger hyperactivity and other intolerance reactions.
- There are serious concerns over carcinogenicity and estrogenic effects and in large doses caused tumors in laboratory animals.
- It was banned in Japan in 1958, and it was recommended that it be banned in the UK, however due to industry pressure it was not.
- McDonald’s eliminated BHT from their US products by 1986.
- Not recommended to be consumed by children.
- The Hyperactive Childrens Support Group believe that a link exists between this additive and hyperactive behavioural disorders in children.
A little additional research surfaced this information, from What are BHA and BHT?:
- “BHA is found in butter, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods, dehydrated potatoes, and beer.
- “BHT also prevents oxidative rancidity of fats. It is added to shortening, cereals, and other foods containing fats and oils.
- “The same chemical properties which make BHA and BHT excellent preservatives may also be implicated in health effects. The oxidative characteristics and/or metabolites of BHA and BHT may contribute to carcinogenicity or tumorigenicity…There is evidence that certain persons may have difficulty metabolizing BHA and BHT, resulting in health and behavior changes.
Of course, the industry stand is that these ingredients are used in negligibly small amounts, and therefore do not hurt you. But the question, to my mind is this: How much sand is it ok to put into your car’s engine?
If you had an expensive, irreplaceable vehicle, I suspect the answer would be “Please don’t”. So eating fresh, healthy food is definitely the way to go. Packaged and preserved stuff just doesn’t make any sense.
Articles on this site:
- What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
- What’s Wrong with Trans Fats Labels?
- Book Review: The UltraMind Solution
- Mono-Diglycerides: Just a New Name to Disquise An Old Silent Killer – Hydrogenated Oils
- Mono- and Di-Glycerides, by Mary Enig
- Butylated hydroxy-anisole (BHA)
- What are BHA and BHT?
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