Monoglycerides are a form of fatty acid, along with triglycerides and diglycerides. Monoglycerides occur naturally in some foods and are added to others to improve texture, quality, and shelf life.
Researchers know relatively little about how eating large amounts of monoglycerides affects the body. However, as food additives, monoglycerides are considered safe.
In this article, we take a close look at monoglycerides, including their function, which foods contain them, whether they are safe, and who should avoid them.
Monoglycerides are a type of glyceride. They are made up of glycerol and one fatty acid chain.
Triglycerides are very similar, except they have three fatty acid chains. Triglycerides convert temporarily into monoglycerides and diglycerides during digestion.
Monoglycerides are found naturally in almost all foods in very small amounts. They are a type of fat, meaning that they can be either saturated or unsaturated.
Some monoglycerides and diglycerides are also extracted from plant or animal fats and oils and used as food additives.
What is their function?
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are emulsifiers, meaning that they stop water and oil from separating. This makes them a useful addition to many processed foods.
According to a 2017, approximately 70 percent of the emulsifiers used by the food industry in the United States are monoglycerides and diglycerides.
Manufacturers add emulsifiers to packaged and processed food to:
- stabilize ingredients and prevent separation
- improve food texture and consistency
- extend the shelf life of the product
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA), also allows monoglycerides and diglycerides to be added to commercially sold foods to help:
- thicken foods
- strengthen dough
- flavor food or enhance the
- flavors lubricate foods
- help reduce stickiness in moist foods and candies
- dissolve and mix ingredients
Tiny amounts of monoglycerides are in any food that contains plant or animal fats or oils.
Small amount of monoglycerides are also found in a wide variety of packaged and prepared foods products, including:
- nut butters
- candies and chewing gum
- ice cream
- frozen meals
- meat substitutes
- some processed meats, especially sausages and meat loafs
- coffee creamers or whiteners
- baked goods, including cookies, cakes, biscuits, croissants, and pies
The FDA classifies monoglycerides as ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS, as food additives and ingredients, meaning that they do not pose an immediate health risk.
Currently, food producers mostly use monoglycerides and diglycerides in small amounts, so it is hard to say how eating large amounts of these types of fat will impact human health.
Monoglycerides contain small amounts of trans fats. Trans fats occur naturally in many types of meat and dairy and, to a lesser extent, in plant- or nut-based oils.
Trans fats in small quantities are not a cause for concern. However, eating significant amounts of trans fats has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
But, because monoglycerides are a type of fat, eating a lot of foods high in them may not be healthy. Also, many of the foods that include added emulsifiers also contain a lot of saturated and trans fat, such as baked goods and fried foods.
During the manufacturing process, monoglyceride and diglyceride mixtures can also become contaminated with very small quantities of toxins, such as:
The following people may wish to avoid foods with added monoglycerides:
- People who do not eat specific meat products for dietary, religious, or ethical reasons, because monoglycerides and diglycerides can be made from animal fats or oils.
- People who are at risk of circulation or heart conditions may also want to limit or avoid foods that contain added monoglycerides.
According to the available research, eating small amounts of monoglycerides and diglycerides does not seem to cause serious health complications, and the FDA approves their use.
People do not typically eat large quantities of monoglycerides, so it is hard to say the real impact this type of fat has on human health.
Because it is a type of fat, a diet rich in monoglycerides is very likely to be associated with the same long-term risks as triglycerides and trans fats, including heart and circulation conditions.