WHEN IS A FAT NOT REALLY A FAT? Introducing Olestra!

Here we go again.

Olestra is the result of research efforts of food chemists at Proctor and Gamble. It is a synthetic mixture of sugar and vegetable oil that passes through the body undigested. In simple terms, scientists have found a way to crowd so many fatty acid spokes around a core that digestive enzymes can’t find an entry point to break the molecule down. As a result, it passes through the body without releasing any fat or calories. Tastes great, no fat or calories…where’s the problem?

The problem lies in what it might do as it passes through the body. Opponents of Olesta say that as it passes through the system it robs the body of critical nutrients including fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K and many of the 500 or so nutrients that comprise the carotenoid family. The leading opponents seem to come from Harvard University (home of the famous pro sugar studies funded by all those rich sugar companies). They believe that if olestra is approved by the FDA that the American public is being asked to participate in a huge uncontrolled experiment without being informed about potential risks.

Proponents of olestra, including Proctor and Gamble and the FDA, are quick to point out that they do not believe that a minor reduction in blood serum caretenoids will lead to grave public health problems and that replacing fat with olestra will dramatically reduce the larger problem of cardiovascular disease resulting from high fat intake.

What do you think?

First, the fat issue. We think that the widespread availability of fat is a huge problem in America. Olestra, in some situations is a reasonable alternative. Yes, unquestionably for some people olestra causes side effects such as cramping, diarrhea. But this is true of many foods we have been grown accustomed to such as milk, cabbage, fish, etc. The solution here is simple. If cabbage causes you gas, don’t eat cabbage. But don’t ban it for everyone; that’s absurd. The same is true of Olestra. If Olestra causes you gas, avoid Olestra. But don’t assume it is bad for everyone. If Olestra can become a widespread alternative to fat than it would unquestionably help many people prone to problems resulting from high cholesterol as well as overweight.

Second, the caretenoid question. It does appear that consuming a moderate amount of Olestra daily would lead to reductions in serum caretenoid levels by as much as 10%. This, in turn, could lead to extra deaths and diseases each year. There are pretty strong links between a decrease in specific caretenoids and the onset of certain diseases. For example, a reduction in the caretenoids lutein and zeaxanthin could lead to a greater likelihood of age related macular degeneration, a visual disorder. Or a drop in lycopene could lead to more prostate cancer. On the other hand, recent studies have confirmed that popular catenoids such as beta carotene can actually dramatically increase the incidence of lung cancer in smokers. So, in summary, everyone’s points to a certain extent seem justified.

We think that on the balance the good that olestra will do outweighs the potential harm. However the public should be educated that olestra is not a panacea and certain individuals at high risk for caretenoid related diseases may want to consider alternatives or at the very least supplement their dietary caretenoids.

We hope that the FDA sticks by its guns and doesn’t back off the imminent approval of Olestra. After all, in early February we all learned that 75% of Americans are overweight and certainly this statistic alone demonstrates that there are dire health concerns for the future of America. If we lived in a perfect world, education would replace dancing potato chips on television but that isn’t the case. So let’s look carefully at Olestra in the real world and give it a chance.