From Diglyceride To Guar Gum, What Are These Things Really?

Myths and misconceptions about food and ingredients are part of daily life in the food industry. Claims such as “I only eat light products because they are good for me” and “corn syrup is a secret poison” are commonly heard. Nowadays, the words “natural,” “gluten-free” or “organic” are associated with a healthy lifestyle. As a result, we are facing an increased interest in product labels and attention ingredients. This focus, however, is leading to many misperceptions. “If it sounds scientific, it’s artificial” or “I can’t even pronounce that, so it’s bad for me” are statements heard most often. It’s time to shine a light on distorted assumptions and misinformation on ingredients, and reveal the truth.

Scary Ingredient #1: Diglycerides
The American Heart Association defines diglycerides as a type of fat used as emulsifiers and a chemical additive that promotes the suspension of liquids, such as oil and water, that would not normally mix well. While some diglycerides are naturally found in some food such as in soy bean, canola or palm oil, they are most often created in a laboratory and added to foods.

The Not So Scary Truth:
Diglycerides receive a bad rap because they are food additives and are made up of fats, so general assumption is that they are harmful to overall health. However, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research, some studies revealed that the consumption of a high amount of diglycerides can contribute to weight loss and lower triglycerides levels, factors responsible for heart disease and metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels).

According to the Institute, after consumption, diglycerides go directly to the liver for digestion. This will increase fat oxidation, intensify energy metabolism and in turn, help reduce fat accumulation.

Where You’ll Find It:
Peanut butter, cooking oils, mayonnaise, margarine, baking shortening and ice cream

Scary Ingredient #2: Carrageenan
Even if it sounds really scientific, carrageenan is a natural, sustainably-sourced product derived from certain types of red algae, a seaweed found throughout the coasts of North America and Europe. In food and other products, carrageenan works as a thickener, stabilizer and emulsifier, meaning that it helps keep mixed ingredients from separating. It gives foods a smooth texture and accentuates flavor. Carrageenan is commonly used in dairy-based foods because it reacts well with milk proteins.

The Not So Scary Truth:
Several studies and laboratory experiments led by Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, suggested that a certain type of carrageenan – degraded carrageenan, which has been hydrolyzed, or broken down by acid – could cause gastrointestinal problems, including cancers. However, the degraded type is not typically used in food.

The food industry has been using carrageenan for years because of all the benefits it provides, but also because of its proven safety. Both U.S. governments and associations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and experts from the Expert Committee on Food Additives have established it is safe to use.

Where You’ll Find It:
Tomato sauces, salad dressings, cheese products, ice cream and chocolate milk mix powder

Scary Ingredient #3: Guar Gum
No, it is not the latest exotic flavored chewing gum. Instead, guar gum, also referred to as jaguar gum or
guar flour, is a natural resin from the seeds of the guar plant. The food manufacturing industry primarily uses gums to produce better, more shelf-stable products. It acts as a stabilizer in desserts, preventing the
product from dissolving into water. Instant puddings and whipped cream substitutes may contain guar
gum as well as ice cream to give a smooth and creamy texture by preventing the formation of ice
crystals and letting the ice cream melt faster in the mouth. Also available in commerce, guar gum is sold
in powdered form for use in baking low-fat or gluten-free products.

The Not So Scary Truth:
Guar gum is often marketed as a weight loss additive because of its ability to minimize appetite by creating a feeling of fullness. It is a water-soluble fiber, therefore guar gum can have a laxative effect on many who consume it. Although it can also help promote a healthy colon, the use of guar gum can have uncomfortable effects.

More than just an emulsifier, guar gum is commonly used as an herbal supplement to curb the appetite and also helps the body get rid of toxins. Preliminary research suggests that guar gum may help protect against diabetes. In a 2012 study published in the Iranian journal Pharmacognosy, for instance, scientists demonstrated that guar gum was more effective than the anti-diabetes drug Glibenclamide in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetic rats. The study also determined that guar gum helped reduce body weight and food consumption. However, it’s too soon to claim that guar gum may have a similar effect on human health.

Where You’ll Find It:
Gluten-free baked foods, ice cream, milkshakes, cappuccino mixes, protein powders, instant oatmeal cereals, soups and sauces

What are “E Numbers” or Food Additive Codes?
First of all, what are additives? Food additives are substances that are added to food for technological and processing purposes. Indeed, while extending the shelf-life of quality products, additives also enhance the texture and increase the visual appearance of food. Many of these additives were once of natural origin. However, most are now prepared or produced synthetically in order to reduce costs of natural products.

Surveys led by the World Health Organization revealed that there is a lot of concern about the safety of food additives. “E numbers” in particular seem to be a source of concern for consumers, especially parents of young children. People also admit knowing very little and would like to be given more information. Here are the facts: since the mid-1980s, all food sold in the European Union (EU) has had full ingredient labeling. To make it easier to represent specific food additives, the European Economic Community (EEC) formulated E numbers that are now used by the worldwide food industry in the manufacture of various food products. According to the Food Additives and Ingredients Association, all food additives are controlled by law. Before a food additive is given an “E” number it must first be cleared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) after it passed all the extensive safety checks. Once an additive has proved to be safe, it can be included on the “permitted list” of food additives. A list of all of the permitted additives, and the foods in which they are allowed, is published in the form of a regulation. Only additives on this legally permitted list can be used in food.

So what are the reasons why manufacturers continue to include additives despite consumers’ skepticism? While a lot of people enjoy making bread, cakes, beverages, and ice cream at home, most of today’s food is bought from shops and supermarkets. Food made at home is always at its best when eaten instantly. Food produced on the large scale that is needed to supply supermarkets and other food shops has to be transported and stored before it is consumed. It has to stay in top condition over a much longer period of time than home-cooked food. Additives are used so that these foods still have a consistently high quality. Without it, a large quantity of food in the world would “go bad” due to microbial growth before it can be eaten. Food poisoning also shows the dangers of contaminated food, and without the use of preservatives, it would likely be more common. The most generally known additives are preservatives, colors and flavors, but in fact there are many categories of additives, each tailored to a specific purpose.

While controversies as to whether additives are harmful or harmless exist, evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of additives. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), America has the safest and most quality controlled food in the world. There is little evidence linking food additives to major health risks. The benefits of food additives far outweigh the presumed harm.

If you are interested in learning more about these common tiny ingredients that are part of our daily diet, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration maintains a list of ingredients called Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS), which features more than 3,000 items. The list describes these common food ingredients, the reasons why they are used and the names that can be found on products labels (www.fda/org).

Fear of ingredients with odd names on labels leads most people to forget about the many advantages of these additives, which play a very important role in our food supply. With a continuously growing population, it would be impossible to have such a variety of food all year long without these ingredients. Not only convenient they are also necessary to maintain product consistency, improve nutritional value and prevent bacteria contamination. These so called “scary ingredients” prevent foods from spoiling, enhance flavor and control acidity of baked goods. Keep in mind that even if they sound foreign, some of the scary ingredients would sound more familiar if they were listed differently. Did you know that ascorbic acid is actually Vitamin C, alphatocopherol is Vitamin E, and beta-carotene is a source of Vitamin A? Now, that does sound less scary!

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