What's Olestra All About?
I need info on olestra. What are the side effects? Does it take away from your system? I have heard that it flushes through the system and depletes vitamins. True?
Olestra is a new product that tastes and feels like fat but doesn't add fat or calories to the body because it's indigestible. Just yesterday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, asked the FDA to withdraw its recent approval of olestra because a study found that 20 percent of people who ate potato chips made with olestra had stomach problems; 3 percent of them severe.
Olestra, manufactured by Procter & Gamble as Olean, is made with two natural products - sugar and vegetable oil. P&G substitutes the glycerol in a normal fat with sucrose, then adds six, seven, or eight fatty acids instead of the three found in regular fat. What does this mean? Well, the resulting compound is too big to get into the bloodstream through the small intestine, so it really does flush through the system, as you say.
A one-ounce serving of regular potato chips contains about 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. Cooked in olestra, the same chips will contain about 70 calories and no fat.
The FDA approved olestra this year for use in potato chips, cheese puffs, crackers, and other salty snacks. P&G spent more than US$200 million testing olestra to get it through regulatory scrutiny, but it is still under investigation for its long-term effects.
The studies found that olestra prevents absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, which hook onto the fat substitute and ride along as it passes through the intestine. The FDA required P&G to compensate by adding those vitamins to products containing olestra.
The fake fat also drags beta-carotene and other carotenoids along with it through the intestine and out of the body. Carotenoids may help prevent many kinds of cancer and other diseases, and some nutritionists have said they are concerned about the long-term impact of carotenoid loss due to olestra. Such questions are especially important since olestra could represent a significant change to the American diet, considering the amount of fatty snacks people eat.
Other recorded side effects from olestra include bowel-function disruptions such as cramping, gas, diarrhea, and a problem euphemistically called "anal leakage."
(Published 7/1/96) The most pertinent question about olestra, though, is whether its benefits outweigh its potential hazards. Sugar substitutes haven't helped anyone lose weight. Whether fat substitutes will is not clear. I would say if you're going to consume olestra, do it moderately and cautiously until there's more information about it.