In a health-conscious society that welcomed sugar-free sugar, butter-free butter and cream-free cream, there is now the answer to every dieter’s dream: fat-free fat.
Or is it the answer to anything? The food substitute named olestra contains no fat, but with all of the proven side effects and with only a small reduction in calories, the substitute is really no substitute at all.
Olestra boasts of maintaining all the flavor of a product cooked in good old-fashioned oil, but consumers will be the real taste testers. After approval by the Federal Drug Administration on Jan. 27, after two and a half decades of deliberation, the administration finally decided to put the controversial product on the market.
Yet, consumers should be leery in throwing out their low-fat or regular foods for products fried in olestra. FDA approval means nothing more than olestra is non-toxic, but there are many other side effects which have been successfully masked by clever marketing.
Olestra is not the substitute dieters have been waiting for their entire lives. There is a change in the amount of calories in products cooked with olestra. For example, one slice of chocolate cake that is cooked in canola oil contains 252 calories. The same recipe baked with olestra has 163 calories. This is a substantial difference for dieters, but consumers may notice a few other differences which are not quite as pleasant.
Among the proven side effects are intestinal cramping, flatulence and loose bowels.
Loose bowels? This, although a rarity among testers, would be quite an embarrassing side effect, not to mention uncomfortable.
According to the Jan. 8 issue of Time magazine, “In its original formulation, olestra was so light and liquid that it went straight through the digestive tract, and out the other end, staining the underwear of those who ate foods made with it.”
Although this may add to the sales of Depends and other bladder control devices, this will also add to the discomfort of the unsuspecting consumer.
Research has found that along with discomfort contributed to “anal leakage,” this clinical diarrhea is a potentially dangerous condition accompanied by a loss of liquids and electrolytes, gastrointestinal inflammation and poor absorption of proteins and carbohydrates.
The fake fat has now entered a whole different ballpark—it does not only cause discomfort, but serious health problems.
Yet, the FDA still approved the drug on the basis that it was not harmful or toxic.
Besides the prominent intestinal side effects, olestra also dominates the food in which it is cooked. Unlike most artificial food additives which are eaten by the milligram, olestra would be congested by whole grams at a time. In fact, olestra would account for one third of each potato chip baked in it.
Despite years and years of clinical trials on pigs and humans, and study after study on the mystery substitute, no one is certain that olestra will not be a danger to public health–yet the FDA felt secure in allowing the consumers to be the true judge.
This is an acceptable decision in regards to a new style of clothing or a new Barbie doll, but not in a food substitute that will be consumed by millions of dieters all over the world.
According to Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “We don’t need olestra potato chips. It’s crazy to add a substance to the food supply that will make people sick.”
This seems like common sense, but in an unsuspecting appearance-conscious society, the fat-free label on olestra products screams louder than the small warning printed on the package.
Uninformed dieters will expect a loss of weight, but may receive health problems they had not bargained for.