The Procter & Gamble Company spent 30 years and an estimated $500 million to bring its non-digestible fat substitute, Olestra, to market. In obtaining approval for Olestra, P&G conducted a lengthy, persistent, and comprehensive campaign to enlist support from members of Congress; FDA staff; and food, nutrition, and health professionals. This campaign raises larger questions about corporate influence on government policies, and the relationships of corporations to health professionals (1).
Fat does not makes food taste good, because you can't taste fat, you only can feel its smoothness on your tongue and it is the smoothness that makes food feel good. Chemists combined sugar and long chain fatty acids into new molecules that feel smooth like fat on your tongue, but cannot be broken down by pancreatic enzymes and therefore cannot be absorbed from your intestines into your bloodstream. However, as fatty Olestra passes from your body, it binds to fat-soluble retinoids and cause a vitamin A deficiency that increase your chances for developing certain types of cancers. This can be prevented by adding vitamins A,D,E and K to all products that contain Olestra (2,3).
Of greater concern is olestra's binding to retinoids in the gut and preventing them from being absorbed. High blood levels of retinoids are associated with protection from cancers and heart attacks, while low blood levels are associated with increased risk. Olestra's effect on retinoids is most pronounced when it is taken at the same time as rich sources of retinoids such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A study in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that 6 olestra-coated potato chips a day markedly reduce blood levels of retinoids (4). Eating olestra-containing foods 2 or 3 times a week should not cause health problems in people who eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, but most American do not eat lots of these foods. Olestra is likely to lower their blood levels of retinoids which may increase their chances of getting cancers and heart attacks.
A more significant concern is that some people will think it's OK to eat huge amounts of potato chips and French fries in place of vegetables and whole grains that contain phytochemicals that prevent disease and increase their risk for cancers.
1) M Nestle. The selling of Olestra. Public Health Reports 113: 6 (NOV-DEC 1998):508-520.
2) R Hunt, NL Zorich, ABR Thomson. Overview of olestra: A new fat substitute. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology 12: 3 (APR 1998):193-197.
3) DM Prince, MA Welschenbach. Olestra: A new food additive. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 98: 5(MAY 1998):565-569. salty snacks such as potato chips, corn chips). Olestra is not toxic, carcinogenic, is neither absorbed nor metabolized by the body, can cause cramping or loose stools. 170 IU vitamin A per gram olestra, 12 IU vitamin D per gram olestra, 2.8 IU vitamin E per gram olestra, and 8 mu g vitamin K per gram olestra.
4) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September, 1995
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