Enova Oil

Arthur Daniel Midlands has recently launched a new cooking oil in the U.S. that they’re marketing under the name “Enova.” The marketing claim is that “less Enova is stored as fat in your body than other cooking oils.” What is this stuff?

Structure and Process

According to their literature, the key difference between Enova and “conventional” cooking oils is that most plant oils are composed of triglycerides, while Enova is predominantly diglycerides — in particular, diglycerides of a very specific shape. My organic chemistry knowledge is very rusty, but the general idea is that the fats that we ingest are generally (always?) fatty acids attached to glycerol molecules (CH2OH-CHOH-CH2OH).


Glycerol

In triglycerides, all of the OH radicals are replaced by carboxyl groups which attach long hydrocarbon chains. The nature of the fat (both dietarily and physically) varies greatly based on the structure of these chains. Unsaturated fats, for example, have some of their hydrogen atoms replaced by carbon double-bonds. Predictably, diglycerides and monoglycerides replace only two or one such radicals, respectively.


Saturated Fat! It’s What’s For Dinner!

Back to Enova: apparently, the manufacturing process involves starting with traditional (canola, soy) oils, breaking the triglycerides down into glycerol and fatty acids, and then recombining them in the presence of an enzyme. It’s not clear from the literature whether this enzyme catalyzes reattachment to the 1,3 positions or retards attachment to the 2 position of the glycerol — but the net effect is that you end up with mostly 1,3-diglycerides.

Dietary Impact

Now, the theory is that, since the human body can’t easily reattach fatty acids to the 2 position, processing of these fats after being absorbed is different; instead of being reconstituted and available for deposition as body fat, they are instead used in the liver for beta-oxidation. (Intuitively, it would seem that this would simply make whatever fat would have otherwise been used for that purpose to be deposited in fat stores instead — which, although not particularly useful, would make their marketing claim technically true).

Studies on ingestion of 1,3-digylcerides have produced conflicting results. Findings in Japan indicated that diglycerides may reduce visceral fat more than other areas. This would be significant if true, as recent findings on fat have reinforced earlier observations that viceral fat causes significantly more health problems than fat elsewhere. This study also observed significant fat decrease in subjects’ livers. However, a subsequent study in the U.S. was unable to replicate either result.

Both studies showed that the diglyceride group lost measurably more weight than the control group, so there is probably some benefit there.

In no case has any beneficial impact on blood serum levels of cholesterol or triglycerides been observed. This is particularly interesting, because the reported weight loss alone would generally be expected to cause a measurable decrease in LDL cholesterol levels.

Conclusions

So, the published information sounds pretty good — or, at very worst, innocuous. It’s a bit pricey, and I’m always personally wary of highly synthetic foods (e.g. corn syrup), but it doesn’t seem to have any outright warning signs. That said, there are a couple of items of potential concern that are worth noting.

Looking at it from the perspective of just another vegetable oil, there are some interesting things to note. If you check the nutrition label, you’ll see that it’s lower in saturated fats than even canola oil is. That would generally be good; saturated fats tend to raise LDLs. However, compared to most oils, the polyunsaturated fat content is somewhat high. Polyunsaturated fats tend to drop overall cholesterol levels, both LDL and HDL. That’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t as good as monounsaturates, which tend drop LDLs while raising HDLs. So, from a pure fat profile perspective, this looks like it’s not much of an improvement over, say, canola oil; and it may be worse.

The other interesting thing to take note of is the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. Enova has a ratio of about 10:1, while most vegetable oils are closer to 3:1. Although studies are currently ongoing, some researchers believe that higher percentages of omega-6 may cause higher blood pressure and chronic inflammation. (see http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/abstract/69/3/217).

[Edit: cleaned up many typos and cited a relevant study]

Categories: Food and Health.

Comments

  1. Paul Vail

    Misspelling in last paragraph (I believe :) ). Also of interest is that transfats were once thought to be innoculous and ‘just pass through’ the body, but any biochemist (I am one) is skeptical of any claim that our synthetics or changing our dietary ingredients with same will yield a net positive that a three mile walk around one’s neighborhood daily couldn’t easily trump.

    This product will appeal to the non-thinker’s perception that altered foods are the ticket for healthy living in the same fashion that vitamin stores sell a false sense of nutritional security. But we have a nation of willing believers, so I can only imagine there will be a net benefit to ADM’s stock price.

  2. Adam

    Paul:

    Thanks for the feedback. As I said, I’m a bit wary of these kinds of synthetic foodstuffs. In the 2+ years since I wrote this, I haven’t tried Enova even once; I’m sticking with my canola and olive oils for now. I agree that there’s very little a diet can do that exercise can’t do better (especially when you’re substituting fat for fat).

    In particular, your parallel with artificially hydrogenated fat is interesting — the preponderance of studies on the topic seem to indicate that the primary health problems that stem from trans-fats tie back to systemic inflammation. The imbalance of omega-6:omega-3 in Enova certainly seems to be positioned to cause the same set of problems (I added a link to the summary of a study that reaches a conclusion supporting this position). The irony, of course, is that both products were developed to be more healthful alternatives to conventional foodstuffs.

    Also since I wrote this, Firefox has thankfully added a spell-check feature for text boxes; at your prompting, I checked and fixed a bunch of spelling typos in this post. Thanks.

  3. Asta

    According to the company’s website:
    http://www.enovaoil.com/
    “We’re sorry. Enova cooking oil is no longer available.”

    I kind of wonder about why they did that, does seem likely that something was amiss.

    I kind of worry about canola oil myself. Most of it is genetically modified these days. Add in the fact that the pre hybrid rapeseed (what canola is from) was a tad toxic and I kind of wonder if it won’t be another “They ate THAT!?” item in 25 or 30 years.

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