Each time the phrase "mono- and diglycerides" marches through my mind, I hear it a second time in a child's voice, stumbling through its pronunciation. In a stroke of apparent brilliance (since I am still talking--and blogging!--about it twenty years later), Breyer's demonstrated the natural nature of their ingredients vs. other ice creams by having a child attempt to read the lists in a TV commercial: "cream, sugar, vanilla" pronounced without hesitation versus the strain "mono- and diglycerides, polydextrose and propylene glycol monoesters" have on an eight year old's tongue.
So, what are these tongue twisters anyway and why should we pit them against the monosyllabic "cream"?
Mono- and diglycerides are used to combine ingredients containing fats with those containing water. If you've ever made a homemade salad dressing with oil and vinegar, you've noticed how these substances never mix, they only mingle--this is because of the hydrophilic (or water-loving) nature of vinegar versus the hydrophobic (or water-hating) nature of oil. To many consumers, food that settles and separates can be unappetizing: case-in-point the minority market for natural peanut butter, of which I am a proud member. In order to keep these substances mingled, like when you shake a bottle of homemade dressing, food scientists invented mono- and diglycerides to keep the consumer happy and the food product stable.
Harmless bit of consumer coddling? Not exactly.
Depending on the food product's treatment, mono-and diglycerides may contain trans fat since they are made up of fatty acids--one (mono) or two (di) fatty acid tails as opposed to three in the media superstar, "triglycerides". For the past several years, trans fats have gained many enemies for their ability to raise LDL ("bad" cholesterol), decrease HDL ("good" cholesterol), and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. This evidence is so widely accepted among even the least health conscious, that the company which supplies McDonalds with its french fries voluntarily removed trans fats from its recipe in 2004, and the FDA began requiring food labels to indicate the presence of these fats in 2006.
Loophole of loopholes, mono- and diglycerides do not fall under the FDA's labeling requirements despite their propensity for becoming trans fats.
"Yeah, yeah, just another thing to avoid 'cause it's gonna kill me."
Well, maybe not. While I am relatively health-conscious, all this fatty acid tail talk inspired me to take a survey of my own cabinets, and the results weren't as upsetting as I had assumed they would be.
Yes, they're in non-Breyer's ice cream and bread and (my husband's) regular peanut butter. They're also in my International Coffees Suisse Mocha mix, but I'm not exactly looking to cleanse my adrenals when I drink that stuff anyway. I was thrilled to find that store-bought salad dressings are actually free of the substance in favor of xanthan gum, whose level of criminality will be researched at a later time. In truth, however, I found these little suckers in far fewer of my favorite snacks than I expected.
One last mono-di, "uno, dos, tres, catorce"--sorry, the beginning of U2's Verigo just washed over me--caveat for my vegans and vegetarians: The source of these fats can be plant OR animal-based, and the FDA does not require the source of the mono- and diglycerides to be disclosed; so, buy a bread maker or get to kneading in order to avoid these substances.
Okay folks, that's it. I'll never advocate extremism, just awareness…
Be aware of where mono- and diglycerides can be found.
Be aware of how much of these items you consume.
Be aware of the FDA's partial protection of the public.
Be aware of commercials featuring super cute kids reading the back of ice cream containers.