Fat Replacement Products: Olestra (Olean)


More than 150 scientific studies and 25 years of testing have made olestra (brand name Olean) the most thoroughly tested new food ingredient ever approved by the FDA. Yet, a 2003 report in the American Journal of Public Health exposed the fact that 80% of the authors who published articles supporting olestra had financial ties to Procter & Gamble (P&G), the company that manufacturers the fat substitute.

So what exactly is olestra? Binding a fatty acid, a fat-building block, to a sugar makes olestra, a specific type of fat-based fat replacer known as sucrose polyester. Because the human body doesn’t have a way to separate the fatty acid from the sugar, it can’t be used, and the body can’t absorb the calories in it. So it passes through the body without being digested. The downside of it not being digested is that it also carries away some fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin E with it. That’s why foods made with olestra have fat-soluble vitamins added to them.

Unlike many other fat replacers, olestra is heat stable, so it can be used in fried foods and baked goods. Currently, it’s approved for use in snack foods.

The warning label that olestra-containing products were required to carry certainly didn’t enhance consumer comfort: “This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K have been added.”

After an explosive launch in the late 90’s, sales of olestra have fallen dramatically. Still, be prepared for another marketing blitz for olestra-containing products soon. In 2003 the FDA dropped the warning label requirement after reviewing people consuming olestra in real-life conditions.

You should be aware of products on the market, like olestra, that are chemically engineered to react or not react to the natural functions of your body. And also watch the studies that have been conducted to prove the ‘safeness’ of these engineered products. People and companies make very good money off new products that you consume – without having all the facts.


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