Last Updated on May 20, 2023 by Max
Olestra: A Fat Substitute with a Slippery Slope
Regarding snacks, we often look for options that allow us to indulge without guilt. Enter Olestra – a fat substitute used in some snack foods in the U.S., including chips and crackers. Olestra provides the same taste and mouthfeel as fat but without the calories, making it seem like a dream ingredient for those watching their weight (Proctor & Gamble, 1996).
However, Olestra’s effects are not all positive. The main issue lies in its indigestibility. Because Olestra passes through the digestive system without being absorbed, it can cause digestive problems, including abdominal cramping and loose stools (U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 1996). This led to numerous complaints following its introduction to the U.S. market in the 1990s (U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 1996).
More importantly, Olestra can reduce the body’s absorption of specific essential vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as other nutrients (Proctor & Gamble, 1996). To combat this, the U.S. FDA requires foods containing Olestra to be fortified with these vitamins (U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2003).
In response to these potential health issues, several European countries have banned the use of Olestra (European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), 2004). Nevertheless, it continues to be used in the U.S., albeit with a warning label detailing the potential for digestive discomfort.
The case of Olestra presents another example of the contrasting food safety standards between the EU and the U.S., highlighting the importance of understanding not only the benefits but also the potential drawbacks of food additives.
How do you feel about the use of fat substitutes in food? Would you trade fewer calories for potential digestive discomfort? As we delve further into these concerns, we welcome your thoughts.
- Proctor & Gamble. (1996). Olestra: A New Food Ingredient. Cincinnati, OH: Proctor & Gamble.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (1996). FDA Talk Paper: Reports of Intestinal Upset Prompt Labeling Change for Olestra. Washington, D.C.: FDA.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2003). Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Volume 3, Section 172.867 Olestra. Washington, D.C.: FDA.
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (2004). Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids, and Materials in Contact with Food on a request from the Commission related to the use of Olestra in food. EFSA Journal, 2(5), 52.