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Nutrition Library: Food Substitutes


Snack products containing olestra, a fat-based substitute for conventional fats, now appear on store shelves. FDA approved olestra for use in certain snack foods in January 1996. The agency requires all products containing olestra to be labeled with specific health information.

Procter & Gamble Co. developed olestra, which it is marketing under the trade name Olean.

Because of its unique chemical composition, olestra adds no fat or calories to food. Potato chips, crackers, tortilla chips, or other snacks made with olestra are lower in fat and calories than snacks made with traditional fats.

Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools in some individuals, and it inhibits the body's absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients. FDA is requiring Procter & Gamble and other manufacturers who use olestra to label all foods made with olestra and to add the essential vitamins A, D, E, and K to olestra.

The following labeling statement is on all products made with olestra: "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."

Studies of olestra indicated it may cause intestinal cramps, more frequent bowel movements, and loose stools in some individuals. These gastrointestinal effects do not have medical consequences. The required labeling will give consumers needed information to discontinue the product if appropriate.

Clinical testing also indicated that olestra absorbs fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) from foods eaten at the same time as olestra-containing products. Studies also demonstrated that replacing these essential nutrients in olestra-containing snacks compensates for this effect.

In addition to inhibiting the absorption of essential vitamins, olestra reduces the absorption of carotenoids--nutrients found in carrots, sweet potatoes, green leaf vegetables, and some animal tissue.

(Reprinted with permission from the United States Food & Drug Administration)

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