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    Archive for the ‘Olestra’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Olestra

    This situation is a little awkward but: I ate the Lay’s light chips (the ones cooked with olestra) and [they] produced some rather unfortunate side effects the next morning, as you can imagine.

    I checked but there was no warning on the packaging. How come they don’t warn about the side effects of Olestra?

    — Bubbles (via the blog)

    Welcome to nutrition politics! I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

    Let’s begin with some general information.

    Olestra — a calorie-free fat-substitute made by linking fatty acid chains to sucrose molecules — was developed in 1996 by multinational consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble.

    I am sure many of you remember the popularity of “WOW!” chips in the late 90s. Those were fat-free thanks to the inclusion of Olestra.

    At the time, two things stood out to people who read the nutrition label and ingredient list. First, vitamins A, D, E, and K were added into the product.

    A “healthier” potato chip? No. Since Olestra inhibits the absorption of these vitamins, it was decided to fortify such fat-free products with them.

    However, the statement following the ingredient list caught most people’s attention: “Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools.” Yum!

    Why is this? Olestra travels through our bodies completely undigested. In turn, even not-so-large quantities result in less than pleasurable side effects.

    Alas, time went on and the Food & Drug Administration received over 20,000 formal complaints from consumers. The overwhelming majority revolved around the consumption of Wow! chips and painful — sometimes painfully embarrassing — side effects.

    This made Olestra the food additive with the most complaints in the history of the FDA.

    Interestingly enough, Wow! chips were soon replaced by “light” varieties of popular snacks. The perfect marketing trick, if you ask me — offer a product with a tarnished reputation under a different name.

    Remember, this is Proctor & Gamble we are talking about here. A lot of money — and corporate interest — is at stake.

    I should also mention that Proctor & Gamble is known for its overly generous contributions to the Republican Party. This nugget of information will come in handy in a about two seconds.

    Fast-forward to October of 2003 when, magically, during a Republican presidency, the FDA announced that products containing Olestra no longer need to list warnings on their packages.

    Their reasoning? The reported gastrointestinal side effects were “mild and rare.”

    In fact, one of their main arguments was that abdominal cramps and diarrhea are common, and Olestra was just getting a bad reputation.

    I don’t think Olestra is worth all the trouble. If you are looking for a lower fat conventional potato chip, try Baked chips (I personally think Baked Lay’s taste like salted cardboard, but the new Kettle Baked Chips are tasty), which contain 85% less fat than their regular relatives and absolutely no Olestra.


    You Ask, I Answer: Alli

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this new pill called “Alli”. Seems to be quite a big thing, being FDA approved and not needing a prescription for it. What do you think?

    — Jamie Church

    Alli (a post-modern spelling of “ally”) is the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight-loss pill. I am sure you heard about it long before its June 15 launch date, thanks to a $150 million nationwide advertising campaign that spanned every kind of media outlet known to man.

    A less powerful version of a prescription-only drug known as Xenical, Alli helps partially block the absorption of fat in the body. It works in a very similar principle to Olestra, the fat replacer in “Wow!” chips that was all the rage in the late 1990s.

    Anything that blocks the absorption of fat has two drawbacks. First, there are the unpleasant gastric symptoms: diarrhea, bloating, gas, and even an oily rectal discharge at unexpected times.

    Additionally, when fat isn’t full metabolized, neither are the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). This is precisely why many products made with Olestra were fortified with these nutrients.

    The main reason why this product is flying off the shelves in record-numbers is that, in trial studies, people who supplemented their diets with Alli lost 50 percent more weight than those who simply dieted.

    My main issue with Alli – or any other weight-loss drug – is that it does not teach healthy habits. Losing weight isn’t the hardest part of the gig; it’s the maintenance many people stumble with.

    Although the dieters who also took Alli lost more weight, it is very likely they also gained back a higher percentage of weight once they went off the drug.

    If you just pop a pill that helps melts pounds but does not help alter the eating habits that made you gain weight in the first place, what happens when you stop taking it?

    Another issue worth thinking about: Alli is specifically a fat-blocker, so people who have gained weights as a result of diets very high in carbohydrates will not reap its rewards the same way as those who have packed on the pounds as a result of a diet high in fats.

    The one positive aspect to this entire Alli craze is that advertisements make it clear this is not a magic pill, and that to fully obtain its properties, it should accompany a reduced-calorie diet and a consistent exercise program.

    At the end of the day, I believe that just like in the famous children’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”, slow and steady always wins the weight-loss race.


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