Thiamine mononitrateSounds pretty scary, right? But is it?
thiamine_mononitrate.png
created by Laura Webb


I don't eat any of that, do I?
Yes, you do! Unless you are allergic to wheat, you most likely eat thiamine mononitrate on a daily basis. It is in the Trader Joe's chocolate covered pretzels I was just enjoying, the linguine that is boiling on the stove as I write this, and the wheat thins I had with my lunch earlier. It is found in a plethora of foods on the market today because it is an additive in enriched wheat or white flour.

What is it?
Thiamine is a water soluble compound in the vitamin B family. It occurs naturally in pork, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Thiamine is usually produced commercially as thiamine chloride or thiamine mononitrate, and is used in this form to enrich flours (3).

Vitamin B. So that's good for me, isn't it?
Yes. You certainly need vitamin B (also called thiamine) in your diet, because it plays an important role in the prevention of several neurological disorders. Thiamine breaks down energy molecules called glucose in the body, so a deficiency can lead to severe fatigue and loss of control of peripheral nerves. The most famous of these disorders is called Beriberi, which can cause paralysis, heart failure, or even death (2).

image courtesy of wikipedia.org
image courtesy of wikipedia.org


So I should specifically buy foods that have thiamine mononitrate in the ingredients list since it is such an important vitamin?
Not exactly. Vitamin B is a necessary vitamin to sustain life, but the synthetically produced form that it takes in most processed foods is what is controversial. Don't be fooled when you read wheat flour in an ingredients list; wheat flour and whole wheat flour are not the same thing. The parts of the wheat that contain all the vitamins and fiber (the bran and the germ specifically), also happen to contain oil and are therefore prone to spoilage, so they are removed when the wheat is milled into flour. What is left after the wheat is milled is just the starchy endosperm (hence the term "empty carbs"). So food chemists essentially decided that they would replace all the vitamins they took out with a synthetic form of themselves that is less likely to spoil. This is where the "enriched" part of enriched flour comes in. Many people argue that these synthetic versions are not as nutritious as the original food and may have unintended side effects. To read an excellent article on the topic, click here. But if vitamin B is what you are after, you would be much better off to reach for a slice of whole wheat bread or a handful of almonds rather than a handful of those chocolate covered pretzels (1).

Let's get to the chemistry. Where does the name come from?
Thamine: A covalently bonded carbon structure with an amine group (NH2) that has a positive one charge
Mononitrate: One nitrate group (NO3 ) that has a negative one charge. That is why thiamine chloride is also such a common compound. Nitrate and chloride both have the same charge!

Number of carbon atoms: 12
Number of nitrogen atoms: 4
Number of sulfur atoms: 1
Number of oxygen atoms: 1
Number of hydrogen atoms: 16




RESOURCES

1. Burkett, Eric. "Thiamine mononitrate for better health and happiness." Examiner.com National. Clarity Digital Group LLC, 14 July 2009. Web. 30 October 2010. <www.examiner.com>

2. "Thiamine (Vitamin B1)." Medline Plus--Trusted Health Information for You. US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, 30 September 2010. Web. 29 October 2010. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov>

3. "Thiamine mononitrate." Chemicalland21.com. Chemicalland21, 2000-2008. Web. 30 October 2010.<www.chemicalland21.com>