I’ve seen them on food labels but don’t know what they are or why they are in some foods.
— Lisa (last name withheld)
Ah, yes. Nothing makes you want to reach for a dictionary more than reading a food label.
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are related to triglycerides (three fatty acid molecules bound to a glycerol molecule) — the basic unit of all dietary fats.
They consist of either one or two fatty acid molecules bound to a glycerol molecule and are mainly used as emulsifiers, thickeners, and binders in a variety of different foods.
Although they can be obtained from triglycerides, they are very easy to create synthetically.
“Non-natural” peanut butters, for instance, contain mono and/or diglycerides in order to prevent the oil from separating from the more paste-like crushed peanuts.
You will also often see them present in margarines and low-fat butter replacements.
While they pose no health risks (or benefits), individuals with soy allergies should exercise caution, since a large percentage of mono and diglycerides are derived from soybean oil.