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Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way the diet crazed society of America could get around eating fat, but still enjoy the savory taste that accompanies it? Well, miraculously, it is possible through a product called Olestra. This seemingly perfect product created by Proctor and Gamble was recently approved by the FDA for use as a substitute for fat in snack foods such as potato and corn chips. “Olestra is a zero calorie fat replacement intended to replace 100% of the fat used in the preparation of savory foods and snacks” (http://www.olestra.com). This miracle creation seems to be the perfect answer to the nutritionists and health professionals’ recommendation of decreased fat in the diet. What better way to lower your fat intake than by not changing your diet and continuing to eat the foods you love? Proctor and Gamble focused on America's weak point: over-eating and their obsession with appearances to create a multimillion dollar invention: junk food that is “non-fat.” Although the hazardous effects of Olestra are still under intensive study, consumers everywhere are demanding products with this artificial fat substitute.
Fat substitutes come in various different kinds. There are those that are absorbed into the body and those that are not absorbed into the body. Olestra is one that is not absorbed into the body. It passes through the digestive system and is excreted as waste and never used. These seem harmless, but in actuality the harm is not involved in the fat intake, it is in the nutrient absorption disruption. For those fat substitutes which are absorbed, the consumer needs to consider the elimination of the fat substitute, so the problem of absorbing fat does not seem to be resolved with that product.
The Chemical Composition of Olestra
Olestra is a sucrose polyester structure of six to eight fatty acids bound together by a sucrose core. It is a synthetic fat composed of sucrose and edible oils. Olestra can be used as a fat substitute virtually anywhere because of its flexibility of chain length and saturation levels on the sucrose molecule (http://www.cochrancorp.com/faq.htm).
Why is Olestra Effective?
Olestra’s effectiveness is due to the fact that it is not digested or absorbed into the body and therefore it adds no calories or fat to the diet.
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The Purpose and Rationale of Olestra
Olestra was created for the consumer. In our world where supermodels and televisions stars set the standards for looks, people feel the pressure to get slim to be appealing to the rest of society. The researchers at Proctor and Gamble knew the American people’s weakness, and they have made a fortune out of it. On the surface, Olestra makes people feel good about eating the typical “fatty” snack foods. The purpose of Olestra is to make one feel good about their eating habits. What could be better in the mind of a dieter that eating greasy potato chips that are nonfat? This product may be deceiving to the eye of the beholder in its potential downfalls.
The rationale for olestra products is to lower the fat intake of the consumers. In the long run, lower fat intake in the diet will decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, certain types of cancer and diabetes. The lower fat intake also assists in weight loss and regulating obesity.
The Side Effects of Olestra
Although Olestra seems a utopia in the land of fatty foods, its side affects may be more harmful than they are advertised to be. If one looks closely enough on the back of the bag of the infamous WOW chips made with Olean’s Olestra, they would find a small warning label. This label reads, “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.” This label states only the beginning of the potentially hazardous side affects of Olestra.
Many articles warn of the hazards of Olestra in the body’s normal bodily functions. An article in the Journal of Nutrition states that “Olestra is a mixture of polymers formed from sucrose and fatty acids derived from edible fats and oils. It is not absorbed or digested and can serve as a zero calorie replacement for dietary fat. Because olestra is lipophilic and not absorbed, it has the potential to interfere with the absorption of other dietary components” (http://www.olestra.com). If olestra and certain vitamins and nutrients are consumed in the same meal, olestra can prevent the natural absorption of some vitamins and nutrients. In studies done by the Journal of Nutrition on pigs and humans, “Olestra did not affect the availability of water-soluble micronutrinets or the absorption and utilization of macronutrients. Olestra reduces the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; however, the effects can be offset by adding specified amounts of the vitamins to Olestra foods” (http://www.olestra.com). On the back of the bag of WOW Brand chips it states that these specific vitamins are added to the product to account for the potential loss of the vitamins. The Journal of Nutrition states that “Olestra’s effects on vitamins D and E in humans can be offset by increasing dietary levels of these vitamins” (http://www.olestra.com). The nutritional effects of Olestra involving vitamins A, D, E, and K and fat absorption are virtually harmless, if the olestra product is consumed in moderation and the consumer does not neglect the recommended nutrients in a healthy diet. Although Olestra does not seem harmful long term, it has other side effects that can be potentially fatal.
The main side affect associated with olestra is concerning carotenoids. The importance of carotenoids relates to health issues. Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer of Harvard wrote that a number of different studies show that diets with high levels of carotenoids are related to a lower risk of cancer. Studies have found that eating olestra products with carotene rich foods depletes the amount of carotenoids in the body. If WOW Brand chips containing Olean’s olestra and carrot sticks were eaten at the same meal, then more carotenoids would be wiped out of the body’s nutrient supply. Proctor and Gamble did an eight week long study and found that eight grams of olestra a day “caused dramatic depletion of fat-soluble vitamins . . . Olestra caused significant declines in all carotenoids monitored” (http://www.cspinet.org). The consumer needs to be weary of this. Foods often eaten in a well balanced meal such as tomatoes, which contain the carotenoid lycopene, romaine lettuce, which contains the carotenoid lutein, and carrots that contain the carotenoid beta-carotene can be depleted of nutritional value by olestra. In a sixteen-week study with a placebo group conducted by the Journal of Nutrition olestra was found to decrease levels of beta-carotene by 27%, along with the decrease of other carotenoids. The seemingly healthy veggie sandwich you order can be wiped out nutritionally by the food you buy to accompany your meal. If the carotenoid does in fact help reduce the risk of cancer, then this is a major flaw with the product olestra (http://www.cspinet.org/olestra/pbg.html).
On the other hand, studies also say that there is no proof that carotenoids do in fact reduce the risk of cancer. For lung cancer carotenoids were found useless, but carotenoids seem helpful for the prevention of other types of cancer. Intensive research is being done on the subject to answer the miracle question, would carotenoids in fact reduce the risk of cancer? If so, Proctor and Gamble are going to have some issues to straighten out for the successes of their product, olestra (http://www.cspinet.org/olestra/pbg.html).
As of now, the only proven side effects of olestra are the common gastrointestinal discomforts. This includes abdominal cramps, fecal urgency, diarrhea, and loose bowels (http://www.cspinet.org/olestra/11cons.html). The Frito-Lay company has recorded that olestra causes “anal oil leakage” (http://www.cspinet.org/new/flaynal.html). They also say that consumers who eat more olestra products are subject to more severe cases of diarrhea, cramps, loose stools, nausea, and underwear spotting among other discomforts.
What does the FDA say?
On June 17, 1998, the FDA approved olestra with no reserves about the harmfulness of the product. They argued that although it may cause gastrointestinal problems, it has succeeded in providing a snack food with low fat and calorie intake. Due to the lack of evidence that carotenoids reduce the risk of cancer, the issue addressing the depletion of carotenoids was not addressed. The FDA concluded that snacks containing olestra have no long-term effects on the body, and were therefore approved with no reservations (http://www.olestra.com/cgi-bin/newsware/latest/index.cgi?). One enraged protester of the FDA’s ruling said, “Besides contributing to disease, olestra causes diarrhea and other serious gastrointestinal problems, even at low doses. I find it incredible that Dr. Kessler would certify this food additive as safe, especially when there are truly safe low-fat snacks already on the market. What’s more, there is no evidence to show that olestra will have any significant effect on reducing obesity in America” (http://www.cspinet.org/new/olest1.html).
Along with the advocates of olestra as a healthy product, there are many who are adamant against it. The main advocate against olestra is called the Center for Science in the Public Interest(CSPI). They have published numerous articles protesting and warning against the dangers of olestra. The CSPI has asked the advertisers for Olean’s Olestra to stop the deceptive advertising done in television commercials, magazine ads, and on the Internet. They also request that Proctor and Gamble not label their product as “fat-free” because it is not fat free, the fat is not absorbed into the body. A small 5.5-ounce bag of WOW chips has around nine teaspoons of fake fat; thus it is not “fat-free.” Walter Willett of the nutrition board at Harvard University says that “Olestra actually has negative nutritional value because it prevents the body from absorbing carotenoids . . . long-term use of olestra in snack foods is likely to cause thousands of cases of cancer and heart disease each year” (http://www.cspinet.org). The CSPI is charged with not submitting enough evidence to the FDA that olestra is in fact harmful to the consumer. This organization needs to produce concrete evidence about the dangers of olestra if they want the approval of the product to be repealed.
Many scientists and researchers have voiced their opinions on the product olestra. Listed below are a few different viewpoints from professionals.
“Olestra=Mineral oil . . . I believe that this is another hoax and deception being foisted on . . . the American people.” Dr. Sheldon Margen, Public Health Nutrition, U. of California, Berkeley
“I found that before trying snacks made with Olean, almost everybody says they are too good to be true, but after they crunch into potato chips made with olean, they realize that in fact, they’re truly, too good, period.” Marylin Harris, Cookbook author and culinary expert
“There are too many unanswered questions remaining about the safety and long-term public health consequences of olestra consumption. Therefore, the American Public Health Association does not support approval for olestra at this time.” Dr. Fernando Treviño, American Public Health Association
“All Americans can feel confident in the safety of snacks made with olestra.” Louis Sullivan, MD, President, Morehouse School House of Medicine
“. . . there is strong reason to suspect that the effects [of olestra] will include increases in cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blindness.” Drs. Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, Harvard School of Public Health
“With rigorous oversight by the FDA and other government authorities, consumers can feel confident that safety is a primary concern prior to approval for use in foods.” Steve Taylor, Ph.D. and Susan Helfe, Ph.D., Food Science and Technology Department, U. of Nebraska
In a recent experiment on Olestra’s effects on Vitamins D and E, studies show that the depletion of these vitamins can be countered by an increase of the vitamins. This purpose of this experiment was to determine if and how much additional vitamin D and E was needed to offset the depletion caused by olestra. In this study, one hundred and two healthy males and females took either 0, 8, 20, or 32 grams of olestra per day along with Vitamins A, D, and E for eight weeks. Through urinalysis, the vitamin B12 absorption and serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D was detected. The results showed that through the addition of 2.1miligrams a-tocopherol acetate and 0.06 mg ergocalciferol per gram of olestra healthy levels of these necessary vitamins can be achieved. The results of the experiment showed that with these added substances, olestra showed no olestra related long-term side effects, although some of the complained of gastrointestinal malfunctions (Schlagheck, Kesler, Jones, Zorich, Dugan, Davidson, Peters, 1997).
Also studied was olestra ingestion and retinyl palmitate absorption in humans. Daher, Cooper, Zorich, King, Riccardi, and Peters studied this relationship. In this study, sixty-eight males underwent a thirty day period during which they consumed 10 grams of olestra daily. After this initial treatment, they were given 0, 8, 20, or 32 grams of olestra and 38 grams of trygliceride. During the course of the study, blood was taken and analyzed and in general, no effect was found on the levels of retinyl palmitate in the plasma although in the 32 gram consumer of olestra, a slight decrease of retinyl palmitate was recorded (Daher, Cooper, Zorich, King, Riccardi, Peters, 1997).
A study conducted for The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the effect of olestra(sucrose polyester) on fat and energy intake compared with regular foods. Ninety-five people were divided into two groups. Some knew of the differences between the two products in fat and energy intake, and some were unaware. For two ten day periods, the subjects ate either the “fat free” chips or the regular chips as a snack. It was discovered that when consuming the ‘fat-free’ chips, the fat and the energy intakes were heavily decreased, although the total potato chip consumption did not differ between the different type of chip. This study successfully showed that the substitute of olestra ‘fat-free’ chips for regular-fat chips aids in weight loss and is beneficial for the short term(Miller, Castellanos, Shide, Peters, Rolls, 1998). Although olestra’s ‘non-fat’ component is a miracle product for losing weight, it can have potentially deadly long-term effects.
The Proctor and Gamble Company has done a number of studies on the side effects of olestra. These studies were performed on healthy human volunteers. The effects on olestra on the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins D, E, and K and carotenoids were studied. Volunteers from the ages 18-44 were studied taking 18 grams per day of olestra. This age group was studied because they are found to have the greatest average intake of olestra. Over the 16 week study, the daily intake of olestra was tripled. Also, the daily recommended allowance of vitamins D, E, and K was increased. The study found that disregarding the potentially harmful loss of caretenoids as a result of olestra products, with the supplement of vitamin D, E, and K, olestra proved to be virtually harmless (Peters 1539S-1546S).
In The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, two studies were performed on two different experimental groups of laboratory volunteers. One group ate only margarine with sucrose polyester, while the other group consumed margarine with no sucrose polyester, i.e. real fat. The subjects maintained their normal life styles except they consumed the margarine with the main meal of the day, or that meal with the most fruits and vegetables. The main group of volunteers was divided into three smaller groups, one with a high dosage of sucrose polyester, with a low dosage of sucrose polyester, and the other a control group. The high dosage group consumed 12.4 grams of sucrose polyester in 31 grams of margarine, while the low dosage group consumed 3 grams of sucrose polyester in 7.5 grams of margarine. In the control group, 31 grams of margarine without sucrose polyester was consumed. The experiment was successful in that all of the volunteers successfully finished the project. Through blood tests, the results show that the higher the dosage of sucrose polyester, the lower the levels of carotenoids and vitamins. The polyester, leaves nothing behind, but absorbs many nutrients and takes them out of the body. In the high dose study, the results showed that beta-cryptoxanthin decreased by 23%, zeaxanthin by 18%, lycophene by 53%, luetin by 20%, and beta-cerotene by 34%. With the low dose study, only lycophene and beta-cerotene were reduced by 38% and 20% respectively.
With this experiment it is shown that even small levels of sucrose polyester, such as in the low dose study, can affect the levels of carotenoids. Since carotenoids are found to aid in fighting off and reducing the risk of cancer, they are a vital component of the body. If one continues consumption of olestra sucrose polyester products, and increase in the foods which have high levels of carotenoids would be beneficial (Westrate and Van herhof, 1995).
Anytime research is done on the Internet, the researcher should be skeptical about the validity of the information presented. The qualifications and credibility of the source need to be taken into consideration during researching. On the topic of olestra, professional nutritionists, doctors, and researchers presented most of the information opposing the product. Some of the information advocating the use of olestra in snack foods was provided by unqualified persons such as cooks and those who were unlearned on the topic of olestra. Although there is a variety of views among professionals, overall the research concludes that olestra is not a safe product. It can have long-term effects on the immune system which can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and some types of cancer and diabetes. Olestra is not a safe product and if after reading this paper, you are not convinced, simply search for olestra on the World Wide Web, and you will be appalled.
Daher, GC; Cooper,DA; Zorich, NL; King, D; Riccardi, KA; Peters, JC, Olestra Ingestion and Retinyl Palmitate Ingestion in Humans. Journal of Nutrition. August 1997, Volume 127, 1686 S-1693S.
Miller, DL; Castellanos, VH; Shide, DJ; Peters, JC; Rolls, BJ. Effect of Fat-free Potato Chips with and without Nutrition Labels on Fat and Energy Intakes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. August 1998, Volume 68,2,282-290.
Peters, John C.,Lawson, Kenneth D., Middleton, Suzette J., Treibwasser, Keith C. Assessment of the Nutitional Effects of Olestra, a Nonabsorbed Fat Replacement: Introduction and Overview. The Journal of Nutrition. August 1997, Volume 127, No. 8, 1539S-1546S.
Schlagheck, Thomas G., Kesler, Julie M., Jones, Mighaelle B., Zorich, Nora L., Dugan, Lynn D., Davidson, Michael H., Peters, John C. Olestra’s Effect on Viramins D and E in Humans Can Be Offset by Increasing Dietary Levels of These Vitamins. The Journal of Nutrition. August 1997, Volume 127, No. 8, 1666S-1685S.
Weststrate, Jan, Vanherhof, Karin H. Sucrose Polyester and Plasma Carotenoid Concentrations in Healthy subjects. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 1995, Volume 62, No. 3, 591-597.