My daughter recently received a popular lunchbox treat for participating in an athletic event. When I looked closely at the label what seemed like a simpler treat on the outside was quite revealing. First look at the ingredient list below and note how many ingredients there are.

Ingredients: Toasted rice cereal(Rice, sugar, salt, malt flavoring, niacinamide, reduced iron, riboflavin (Vitamin B2, Folic acid), Marshmallow(Corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, natural and artificial flavor, Fructose, Margarine(Vegetable oil(Soybean and palm oil with TBHQ for freshness, water, Natural and artificial butter flavor(Contains milk), DATEM, Acetylated monoglycerides BHT for freshness, vitamin A palmitate, Vitamin D, Corn syrup solids, contains two percent or less of Dextrose, glycerine, salt, niacin amide, pyridoxine, hydrochloride(Vitamin B6), Thiamin hydrochloride(Vitamin B1), Riboflavin(Vitamin B2), Soy lecithin.

There was an intriguing ingredient, that I had never heard of. Mostly, because I shop on the perimeter of the grocery store and rarely purchase processed snack food when I go shopping. DATEM seems like a benign name, is it related to Dates?

Here is what I found in Bakerpedia. The description of DATEM on most sites including were consistent in their description of what DATEM is.

DATEM Diacetyl Tartaric Esters of Monoglycerides

An emulsifier used in bread making to strengthen the dough during processing.

Chemically synthesized from soybean oil.

Though not completely understood, it functions at the air/water interface within gluten proteins and flour lipids to improve gas holding capacity of the dough. This provides for a stronger dough that can be processed in a high stress system, and a finer crumb grain with higher bread volume, as a result of this system.

DATEM is made by reacting diacetyl tartaric anhydride with mono- and diglycerides resulting in the above structure.

The above description is a lot of chemistry for me. On a less complex note, I do know a little bit about mono and diglycerides. These substances are manufactured fats and contain trans fats as a result of the processing.

As mono and diglycerides only have one and two branches, unlike the three branched triglyceride structure this product does not have to be labeled as containing trans-fats(even though it does!).  Why is this important to your health? Well, trans fats are known to be inflammatory and to be strongly linked to coronary vascular disease, elevated dangerous cholesterol levels and many other medical conditions.

There are many basic label recommendations. Michael Pollan a well known author of “The Omnivores Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” is often quoted, “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.” Next time you go shopping, take a moment to read the labels, see how many ingredients are listed and if you can pronounce what you see easily. If not, reconsider your purchase for a healthier option.

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