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Olestra Turned Down

For many people the way to cut down on fat in their diet is to start eating low fat foods. Early on food manufacturers found that when they removed the fat from many familiar foods, consumers were turned off by the taste and texture. Low fat foods had lost that smooth, melt in your mouth characteristic. It just didn´t taste the same. Enter the chemists. They found that six, seven and even eight fatty acid molecules could be bonded to one sugar molecule to produce a synthetic fat. In natural fats and oils three fatty acids are bonded to a three carbon backbone called glycerol, to produce a triglyceride. The natural fats we eat are in the form of triglycerides. By combining sucrose (common sugar) with fatty acids found in natural fat sources (corn oil, soybean oil etc.) researchers were able to produce a new fat that had most of the properties of normal fat; foods containing the new synthetic fat looked and tasted the same as foods with natural fats. However, for dieters and health regulatory officials, there was one important difference.

Priceonomics

The synthetic fat was not digested as it passed through the gastrointestinal tract. Our bodies don´t have the enzymes to break down the synthetic fat and so the fatty acids bonded to the sugar are not released, like they would be from a natural fat. The synthetic fat goes in one end and comes out the other. But that is exactly what people who were looking for low fat foods wanted. The synthetic fat wasn´t digested, wasn´t absorbed, passed out of the body and, therefore, added no calories to the diet. Great if you are on a diet!

Yes, fats are a source of calories in the diet. However, fat is also an essential nutrient. We all need some fat in our diet; one of the reasons is that without fat, the fat soluble vitamins are not absorbed as they pass through the gastrointestinal tract. Vitamins A, D, E and K dissolve in fat and then pass through the intestinal wall. A synthetic fat that is not absorbed passes out of our body and so do the fat soluble vitamins. It is this dependance on fat to maintain adequate vitamin nutrition that has been the main reason for questioning the safety of having synthetic fats in the diet.

Recently Health Canada announced that they would not allow the artificial fat replacer Olestra to be included in foods to be sold in Canada. In 1996 permission was granted by the United States Food and Drug Administration to the Proctor and Gamble company to use Olestra in the preparation of salty or sharp-tasting snacks, such as potato chips, cheese puffs, and crackers.

Table 1: Molecular Structure
Synthetic Fat - OlestraNatural Fat - Triglyceride
Synthetic Fat - Olestra3-D view1Natural Fat - Triglyceride

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