When I went through my health crisis over 10 years ago, I thought that if I chose foods that were under a certain calorie, fat gram or carbohydrate level, I was going to get fit, lose weight, keep it off, and be healthy. I was wrong. Following that mentality kept me in a never ending loop of yo-yo dieting. To keep my body weight down felt like an uphill battle. It wasn’t effortless like it is now.
Our bodies are able to endure so much, but we tax them with ingredients that have been only invented to improve the production of processed foods and not our health. Our bodies suffer as a result and these ingredients cannot only affect our outward appearance but how we feel too. My body suffered for a long time and I’m so thankful I found a way out… This is why I want to tell you about this ingredient that is in almost everything you see on grocery store shelves and at major restaurants…
Hidden trans fats can lurk in other processed ingredients.
You may have heard in the news that the FDA finally banned “partially hydrogenated oils” from our food (within the next 3 years). This is a step in the right direction – although a long time coming – because the consumption of artificial trans fat is strongly correlated an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and has been shown to lower good cholesterol and raise bad cholesterol levels for quite some time. The CDC has linked it to an increase in death rate and The Institute of Medicine says that trans fats have “no known health benefit” and there is no safe level to eat. No safe level! This ingredient should never have been allowed in our food in the first place! But, it’s not time for a celebration quite yet…
Although the FDA banned partially hydrogenated oils, they don’t address the other artificial additives in our food that also contain these heart-wrecking artificial trans fats. According to the EWG, some refined oils, emulsifiers, flavors and colors also contain trace amounts of trans fat, but they don’t need to be labeled as such and won’t be removed from our food.
In fact, a very common emulsifier in processed food is one of these hidden sources of trans fat – and I’m sure you’ve heard of it.
If you are as diligent about reading ingredient labels as I am, I guarantee that you’ve seen this ingredient listed on the label, and probably wondered what the heck it was.
Usually labeled as “Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids”, or “monoglycerides” and “diglycerides” on an ingredient list – this is one of the most widely used emulsifiers that helps keep oil and fat from separating.
This additive is a byproduct of oil processing – including partially hydrogenated canola and soybean oils – which contain this artificial trans fat that is so detrimental to our health. Even though mono- and diglycerides may contain trans fat, they aren’t required to be labeled as trans fats on food packages, and can even be in food labeled “No Trans Fat”. The FDA labeling regulations on trans fat only apply to triglycerides, and not to emulsifiers like mono and diglycerides. According to nutrition researcher Mary Enig, Ph.D., mono- and diglycerides are:
“usually by-products of fats and oils processing such as partial hydrogenation and various forms of extraction and interesterification processes. Even though they do have some caloric value, they are not counted as fats, and the fatty acids are not identified as having a particular composition. If they are fatty acids with trans bonds, they are not likely to be identified as such, nor would they be identified as any particular fatty acid…
… as the public becomes more aware of the dangers of trans fats, the industry may be tempted to add more MGs [monoglycerides] and DGs [diglycerides] containing trans fats in order to obtain the qualities they want in a food without having to list trans fats on the label”.
Sure enough, mono and diglycerides are in a lot of foods that are labeled “No Trans Fat” and “Zero Grams of Trans Fat”, such as Crisco shortening, Franz New York Bagel Boys Bagels, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light version. I’m not sure how much trans fat may be in these products based on them containing this ingredient but I definitely would leave them on the shelf.
Food companies are looking for cheap replacements to partially hydrogenated oils – will they be using more “monoglycerides” and “diglycerides”?
To really avoid artificial trans fats, keep in mind that the “No Trans Fat” label just means that the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving from partially hydrogenated oils (while still allowed in food), but they could still contain additional trans fat from hidden sources like mono and diglycerides.
If you eat anything processed (tortillas, bread, ice cream) monoglycerides and diglycerides are nearly impossible to avoid.
I went to a conventional grocery store near my home to take some pictures for this post, and was really shocked at what I found. As I walked down every aisle looking for this ingredient, I literally blew up my phone with dozens of pictures. It’s in freaking everything! Okay, not really “everything”… but I found it in several of these types of products like bread, tortillas, cakes, donuts, nut butters, non-dairy creamer, margarine, and ice cream.
It’s used to increase the shelf-life of baked goods (breads, cakes, dough) and to make them softer without adding butter or oil – which is more expensive. I also found it added to cheap peanut butters and margarines too (especially the brands that previously used partially hydrogenated oils)!
Why Some Ice Cream Sandwiches Don’t Melt
Remember seeing this video last year that showed the Walmart ice cream sandwiches that don’t melt in 80 degree weather? This is why. Additives like mono- and diglycerides can be added (along with other emulsifiers) to make low fat ice cream taste creamier – and also to keep it from melting quickly! I’d rather have ice cream that melts like it is supposed to, instead of chemical-additive filled ice cream that’s been designed to stay frozen longer. I’m sure you would too.
You’ll also have a hard time getting away from this ingredient if you’re still dining at mainstream restaurants.
If you read my book, you may remember this ingredient is added to Olive Garden’s famous breadsticks and the complimentary bread that is left on your table at the Cheesecake Factory. I found that almost every menu item at McDonald’s contains “mono- and diglycerides” because it’s in their buns – even their new “Artisan” buns – shakes, ice-cream, frappes, biscuits, and the liquid margarine that’s used to cook their eggs. You also could be eating this ingredient at Burger King (buns, chicken fries, ice cream, croissants), Wendy’s (Frosty, tortillas, buns), TCBY Frozen Yogurt, and Chick-fil-A (white buns, milkshakes, Frosted Lemonade).
Some forward-looking restaurants (thank you Panera) have committed to removing mono and diglycerides, but most restaurants use it in at least some of their food. Why wouldn’t they? It’s cheap, makes the food last longer, and restaurants aren’t required to tell you what the ingredients are in their food if they don’t want to.
How much of this ingredient are we really consuming?
This additive is usually added in small amounts to food, but it’s added to so much of it – do we really know how much the typical American is eating? Anyone who is still eating out at conventional restaurants, buying packaged bread, tortillas, peanut butter, margarines, and ice cream, could be eating several doses of this ingredient… every. single. day.
I reached out to a food scientist at Penn State to comment on the safety of this ingredient and unfortunately there haven’t been many studies conducted on the level of trans fats that are present. Which begs the question, why are we eating this invented chemical that hasn’t been proven safe anyways?
Please continue to be vigilant about reading ingredient labels and if you don’t understand why an ingredient is there to improve your health, put it back on the shelf and run far far away.
Do you know someone who might be eating mono and diglycerides? Then share this post with them – everyone deserves to know what’s in their food, why it’s in there and the risks of eating it.