the skinny on the revolutionary

new fat substitute


Sarah Graham


With over 50% of the world's population being overweight, it seems like everybody is searching for a way to cut down on fat in his daily diet or lower his weight by consuming less calories. Unfortunately, with so many obese people, no one wants to meet these goals in manners that are proven to work: eating a balanced, healthy diet and exercising regularly. Instead, everyone seems to be searching for an easy way out - a way to eat whatever she wants and exercise when she feels like it while still remaining skinny. When the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved olestra for sale in the U.S., people thought maybe their miracle cure had arrived, but at what consequence?


The development of olestra was not originally initiated as a fat-replacer. In fact, in 1968, when two researchers from Procter & Gamble discovered olestra, they were simply looking for a way to increase premature babies' fat intake. The result of such a study appeared in the form of sucrose and fatty-acids, otherwise known as sucrose polyester. Procter & Gamble then named their discovery "olestra," and found its current use as a vegetable oil that can fry foods without adding fat or calories (


Olestra was such a great discovery because its many fatty acids are so tightly packed around the core of the molecule that enzymes and bacteria cannot digest or break it down. This means they can travel through the digestive system without being absorbed and therefore the body never takes in any of the fat or calories it contains. In addition, because olestra is a fatty molecule; it "can bind to cholesterol, vitamins, and other fat-soluble molecules" (

Combining a vegetable oil and a table sugar forms olestra. The oil then undergoes a process in which its caloric value is greatly reduce while it maintains its creamy, fat-like texture ( The Frito-Lay Company, which uses olestra in its chips, says that since fat-reduction is critical to preventing heart disease and cancer, olestra is a beneficial product for everyone. It's the only fat substitute that is fry-able and contains no fat with no calories added. In addition, olestra does not render the taste of the product it is used in. This makes olestra highly valuable considering clinical studies show that reduced-fat foods can significantly help to prevent weight gain as long as they maintain their pleasing taste ( It appeared as though a miracle product had been discovered, and Procter & Gamble had hit the jackpot.


By the time May of 1987 rolled around, Procter & Gamble had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to "approve olestra as a general purpose fat substitute, replacing some or all of the fat in shortenings, fast foods, chips and other products." Stock analyst Hercules Sagalas projected that olestra would generate $1.5 billion in sales every year making it the "single most important development in the history of the food industry" ( olestra/ history.html).

Despite the early predictions, not everything was looking up for Procter & Gamble. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) alleged that olestra had not been properly tested. They claimed the company only tested olestra for two years on one species of rodent, which was not sufficient. Also, disturbing side affects were being reported such as anal leakage and abdominal cramping. Since the body did not absorb olestra, it tended to leak out of the body like oil. From a nutritional standpoint, the CSPI said olestra interfered with vitamin absorption. However, Procter & Gamble announced they had remedied those situations by adding vitamins to the sucrose polyester and modifying its structure making it easier to digest, and complaints subsided for awhile ( olestra/history.html).

When the FDA started asking questions in 1990, Procter & Gamble specified what products they wished olestra to be a part of: potato, corn and tortilla chips, crackers, extruded fried snacks, and the like. Researchers spent much more time in laboratories testing the molecule while the company itself looked for support from other companies and invested in extensive marketing campaigns in order to gain support for their product.


As the deadline for expiration on olestra's patent drew near in 1995, Procter & Gamble became desperate for final approval from the FDA. On January 24, 1996, olestra finally was approved, but all foods containing it had to carry a label stating:

"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" ( ~bkrentzman/meds/olestra1.html) .

Obviously, Procter & Gamble wanted the statement to be softer, but others fought for a longer, more defined warning to appear with olestra foods ( history.html)


Just when it seemed everything was going their way, Procter & Gamble ran into trouble again. The CSPI submitted more than 1000 reports of people suffering from severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fecal incontinence only hours after eating olestra products ( The complaints had returned. However, Frito-Lay and Procter & Gamble stood behind olestra with over 150,000 pages of studies (


It came time for Olestra to prove itself or flop miserably in the laboratory. Since Procter & Gamble had received reports of olestra causing gastrointestinal (GI) adverse affects, the company decided to fund a "movie theatre" study of 1123 volunteers conducted by L. Cheskin, R. Miday, N. Zorich, and T. Filloon at John Hopkins University. The objective was to determine if ad libitum consumption of chips with olestra cause a different degree of GI symptoms than regular chips made with triglyceride.

A randomized, double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled trial was conducted on subjects ranging from 13 to 88 years old. They were given a drink and an unmarked, 13-ounce white bag of potato chips during a complimentary movie screening. After the screening, results were determined by telephone interviews from 40 hours to 10 days after ingestion.


The results showed that ad libitum consumption of olestra chips in a single sitting is not associated with higher incidence or severity of GI symptoms. Also, the amount of the chips consumed does not predict how or how much the subjects will suffer. 563 were in the group that consumed chips containing olestra. Of those 563, 89 (15.8%) reported one or more GI symptoms. Of the 529 subjects who consumed tryglyceride chips, 93 (17.6%) reported one or more GI symptoms. Researchers did not even find a significant difference between the subjects who ate chips with olestra and the tryglyceride potato chips in terms of prevalence of gas, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Also, consumption levels did not correlate with the rate of symptom reporting in either test group (JAMA. 1998; 279(4): 150-2).


The movie theatre seemed great for olestra, but was proved to have its problems. Some researchers found it inadequate to detect GI effects following the single average dose of 17.5 grams of olestra. It lacked the power needed to increase over the baseline. More subjects were needed. Furthermore, some "olestra eaters" may have eaten very little or even none of their chips, and the delay of 10 days to assess symptoms also made results less accurate (JAMA. 1998 July 22; 280(4): 325-7).

To oppose the movie theatre study, 1 study showed quite different results. One study consisted of 2 trails of 17-24 subjects. They were fed 20 or 32 grams of olestra daily for eight weeks. The subjects showed significant dose-related increases of diarrhea, and loose stools. Several of the subjects had one or more severe gastrointestinal symptoms and other GI effects. These effects were studied sometime between a five to 56 day period after the olestra consumption (JAMA. 1998 July 22; 280(4): 325-7).

To back up that study, a clinical rechallenge study of 52 subjects was performed. It showed increased GI symptoms and severity after seven consecutive days of olestra consumption at 20 grams per day. Another similar test of 1228 subjects who ate 34 grams of olestra for only five days found the same results (JAMA. 1998 July 22; 280(4): 325-7).


To this day, consumer complaints continue to come in claiming olestra made them so sick, they could not eat the rest of the day. They complain most commonly of fecal urgency and loose stools. Approximately one third of volunteers in some of Procter & Gamble's studies suffered from diarrhea after eating only 20 grams of olestra per day. That is the amount found in a single 2 ounce serving of olestra chips.

Frito-Lay and Procter & Gamble maintain that eating normal serving sizes of chips containing olestra will not make someone sick. It is when one eats a product containing olestra in excess that one becomes ill. "Any undigested material like mineral oil or dietary fiber...when consumed in large enough amounts may cause cramping. Some people are just more sensitive to these dietary changes than others" (


Even having a strong stomach does not mean one should go eat unlimited amounts of products containing olestra. Unpleasant side affects are not olestra's only problem. When first being developed, scientists noted that it interfered with the absorption of vitamins-carotenoids in particular. Carotenoids are a family of chemicals found in fruits and vegetables that are fat-soluble. They include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Carotenoids attach to olestra molecules, which then pass through the body. Therefore, the body never absorbs any of these important vitamins which are thought to help prevent cancer, heart disease, blindness, and stroke (

Supporters of olestra are fighting back, providing research that claims carotenoids don't serve any healthful purpose, so the fact that olestra may hinder their absorption into the body is irrelevant. Frito Lay insists no scientific evidence exists linking carotenoids to better health. Two recent studies serve as olestra propaganda by showing "that a major carotenoid may even promote cancer among smokers" (


Despite the rebuttal, anti-olestra groups seem to know how to retort to every point olestra backers make. Procter & Gamble apologists claim olestra won't drag carotenoids out of the body because no one eats "carrot sticks with potato chips" ( That is, no one is eating carotenoid-rich food (vegetables) with potato chips. Myra Karstadt and Stephen Schmidt point out that millions do however, "eat chips with their sandwich and crackers with their soup" ( pbg.html). Both soup and sandwiches contain carotenoids which olestra from the chips will attach to and carry out of the body. In addition, they state that although there is not evidence that every carotenoid is beneficial to one's health, it does not mean that it is safe to deplete a body's carotenoid level. Harvard University researchers Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer state that 50+ studies consistently find that carotenoid-rich diets are associated with a lower risk of some forms of cancer.


In a Dutch study, eating only 3 grams a day of olestra (the amount found in six chips) for four weeks left the subjects with 40% less lycopene in their blood stream than the subjects that ate food void of olestra. Lycopene - found mostly in tomatoes-has been linked to lowering the risk of prostate cancer.

In Procter & Gamble's study, subjects ate eight grams of olestra per day (the equivalent of 16 chips) for two weeks. This dropped lutein levels in blood by 20%. Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables like lettuce. Harvard studies have found that people with low lutein levels have a 43% higher risk of macular degeneration, an irreversible mutation of the eye.


Primarily, the fear with health officials and the health-conscious is that "olestra's adverse consequences would not be detectable for at least several decades, during which time enormous harm could be done," according to Willett and Stampfer ( All in all, it is just up to the individual whether olestra is for him or not. Informed consumers need to remember that if a company like Frito Lay or Procter & Gamble is the only place they are getting their information about olestra, it will be biased. Companies relying on olestra for profit are not going to spill the darker sides of the issue. The opposite is true as well. All sides of the olestra saga should be explored.


The choice is yours. If your stomach is not bothered by olestra's structure, then you can enjoy the products which contain it. If you eat a healthy diet in addition to exercising and benefiting from olestra, then you do not need to worry about losing carotenoids. Olestra is not the answer to sedimentary weight loss. It is simply part of the solution to living healthier in combination with a balanced diet, frequent cardiovascular activity, and moderation.


Hot Links

A brief history of olestra

Frito-Lay's official web site

The official Olean brand olestra web site

Phunckhowse - this is my boy Greg's site just for fun :)

If you have questions or comments,or want to drop me a line,email me at:


This page created with Greg Knopf's help-thanks babe :)

oh yeah & DJ is the hottest guy in this school.



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