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Triglyceride Molecules Gallery: A Rough Guide



Triglyceride Formation


       1998 Terry Brown. Reproduced with permission.

All triglycerides are made up of a fork-like structure: glycerol and 3 building blocks, called fatty acids.

Triglycerides are formed by three successive condensation reactions. An enzyme catalyzes the reaction between glycerol and the fatty acids.

Glycerol   +    3 Fatty Acids
------>
Triglyderide   +   3 Water
.

Many different triglycerides can be formed depending of the type of fatty acids - lengthy chains consisting of 18 - 24 carbon atoms.

For instance, a triglyceride with 2+ saturated fatty acids is a solid (eg. lard); a triglyceride with 2+ unsaturated fatty acids is an oil (eg. corn oil).

As a rough guide, according to the number of double bonds they possess, fatty acids are classified as:

  • saturated fats - found in butter, lard, cheese, meat, meat products (sausages, hamburgers), full-fat milk and yoghurt (but also in vegetable sources such as coconut and palm oil) - contain no double bond; they are solid at room temperature and considered the "not-so-good" fats
  • unsaturated fats - usually found in plants; they are liquid at room temperature and are usually oils, considered the "good" fats:
    • mono-unsaturated fats - found in olive oil - contain one bond; they are considered the "better" fats, and
    • poly-unsaturated fats - found in soybean oil, safflower oil, corn oil - contain two or more bonds, thus, they are chemically unstable and
  • trans fats - found in margarine, shortening and commercial peanut butters - contain double bonds artificially broken (hydrogens are being added, in a chemistry lab-type setting, to turn poly-unsaturated vegetable oil into trans fat that bears resemblance to saturated fat solid at room temperature); trans fatty acids are considered the "dangerous" fats.

Any combination of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or trans fatty acids can be in a triglyceride molecule. And they are responsible for the physical properties of the fat.

The body can make all the fatty acids it needs except for two, known as essential fatty acids, namely:

  • alpha linolenic acid and
  • linoleic acid.

These polyunsaturated essential fatty acids must be supplied in the diet - without them we die. Good source of these fatty acids are fish.

Fish, especially fatty fish, such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are the main predominant source of one particular type of essential fatty acids called omega-3 oils, rich in DHA and EPA - highly effective in reducing triglyceride levels and lowering the triglyceride/HDL ratio.

Triglyceride molecules can be envisioned in may ways:


Triglyceride molecule: fatty acids, carboxyl groups and glycerol.




Triglyceride molecule: glycerol, palmitic, linoleic, and linolenic fatty acids.




Triglyceride molecule: glycerol, carboxyl groups and fatty acids.


What about Mono- and Diglycerides?



Simply put, monotriglycerides and diglycerides are also fats. As opposed to triglycerides which are made of three fatty acids, monoglycerides have only one fatty acid, and diglycerides have only two. However, they affect our body in the same way all fats circulating in the bloodstream.

Mono- and diglycerides are naturally formed from triglycerides during the digestion and absorption of every meal containing fat; also further amounts of these partial glycerides are being formed during the preparation of certain foods.

However, they are better known as a common food additive used in such foods as:

  • ice cream
  • margarine
  • instant potatoes
  • chewing gum and
  • baked products.

Commercial mono- and diglycerides are made from glycerin and oils -- such as soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, or palm oil -- by heating them to very high temperatures to allow the fat molecules to rearrange with the glycerin.

(The largest producer of mono- and diglycerides in the U.S., actually, the mono and diglyceride capital of the world, is Danisco Cultor, located in Kansas.)

In processed foods, a mixture of mono- and diglycerides serves as

  • a stabilizer - to keep products from getting stale, therefore, to extend their shelflife, and
  • an emulsifier - to make bakery products taste smooth and to prevent the oil from separating out, in such products as peanut butter.

Because of its ability to retard staling - the firming of baked products that occurs during storage - roughly 40 million pounds of monoglyceride is used annually in yeast-raised goods in the United States.

At least an equal amount finds its way into cake icings or is used in the manufacture of margarine.

Overall, this group of surfactants (emulsifiers) is the single most important one for food uses.

Introduced in the 1930s, superglycerinated shortening was widely used for making high-ratio cakes (i.e., cakes containing more sugar than flour).

At about the same time, the effectiveness of monoglycerides in retarding staling (crumb firming) in bread became known.

In the 1940s, molecular distillation methods were developed to produce distilled monoglycerides, separated primarily from diglycerides.


While triglycerides comprise most of the fat that we eat, mono- and diglycerides together make up less than 1 percent.

As a common food additive, these partial glycerides are a part of our everyday, "normal" mixed diet, and are largely converted back into triglycerides in our intestines; their safety, however, yet to be fully established.

On the list of ingredients of the commercial foods you buy, they are listed no higher than fourth on the label.

Usually added in such small amounts, they contribute only an insignificant amount of fat to our diet.

It should be noted, however, that ice cream, margarine, instant potatoes, chewing gum and commercial bakery products are not a part of a healthy, triglyceride-lowering diet.

What about Glycerol?



Glycerol (glycerine) - which is a trihydric alcohol, the backbone of triglycerides in the body - is the main source of carbohydrates in popular protein bars.

Since glycerol is very good at drawing moisture, it is used in bars to help keep them soft and moist. It also helps sweeten the bar.

Although many companies do not list this as a source of carbohydrates, the FDA defines it as a carbohydrate. Glycerol has a very low glycemic index so it does not impact blood sugar levels greatly.

Interestingly enough, there are ergogenic, athletic performance enhancing benefits associated with ingesting glycerol such as

  • increasing the amount of water retained in the body and
  • enhancing hydration (maybe even enhancing vascularity).

However, in some people, protein bars loaded with glycerol may cause stomach discomfort so unless you want to hit the porcelain throne throughout the day, drink plenty of water with these protein bars.

Other, much less desirable carbohydrate sources in protein bars include corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (dextrose), rice syrup, maltitol, honey (invert sugar), turbinado sugar, sucrose (which is a combination of glucose and fructose), crisp rice, and fructose.

Fructose (fruit sugar) is added to bars not only to provide a source of carbohydrates but also to sweeten the product as it has a very sweet taste. Fructose is mainly metabolized in the liver and therefore has a lower glycemic index.

However, consumption of high amounts of fructose can lower metabolic rate and cause de-novo lipogenesis (the conversion of sugar into fat) since the liver can only metabolize limited amounts of fructose.

Speak to Andrzej J. Mierzejewski, RHN on lowering high triglycerides naturally with Triglyceride Reduction TGs Formula

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