St. Francis Prep.
Nutrition - Mrs. Turner
Snack Attack Olestra
by Michael Jacobson & Leila Corcoran
Nutrition Action Health Letter March 1998
One night in the fall of 1996, 49-year-old Jean Medonic of Marion, Iowa, tried some potato chips made with the fat substitute olestra as she watched the 10 o'clock news.
The pain finally subsided...just before the waves of diarrhea hit. She says she was severely ill for 13 or 14 hours.
Until now, the problem has been confined to central Indiana, the Columbus (Ohio) area, and three other cities where olestra chips and crackers have been test-marketed.
By the end of March, though, foods made with olestra may be staring you in the face at your local supermarket. That's when Frito-Lay plans to start selling its WOW brand of olestra-containing Lay's, Ruffles, and Doritos nationwide. It's licensing the use of olestra-under the trade name Olean-from consumer products giant Procter & Gamble.
P&G says that its own Fat Free Pringles, which are still being test-marketed, will go national later this year. Products by Nabisco (it's test- marketing Wheat Thins and Ritz crackers made with olestra) and other companies may follow.
But passing through the digestive tract unabsorbed has a downside. In some people,olestra acts as a laxative.
What's more, as it journeys through the gut, olestra snares fat- soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) from any foods that may be there and drags them out of the body. Ditto for carotenoids, which may help prevent disease. The Food and Drug Administration requires Procter & Gamble to fortify olestra with the four vitamins to help compensate for the losses. But it doesn't make the company add back any carotenoids. And that's a problem.
"Olestra has the potential to do significant harm," says Ernst Schaefer of the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
A Big Experiment
In November 1995, an FDA advisory panel voted 17 to 5 to approve olestra. The committee-which didn't include a single expert on carotenoids-was stacked in favor of P&G. At least nine of the 17 yea votes came from food industry consultants.
wrote Henry Blackburn of the University' of Minnesota School of Public Health in the New England Journal of Medicine.
wrote Blackburn, one of the five panel members who voted against approval.
In january 1996 P&G got the FDA's go-ahead to sell olestra for use in "savory snacks" like potato chips, tortilla chips, and crackers. The feds' only concession to safety concerns: All olestra products must carry a label: notice that warns of "abdominal cramping" and "loose stools." It also warns that olestra "inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients" (see example below).
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.
Olean is registered trademark of the Proctor & Gamble Company
The FDA requires snack food manufacturers to put
says Ian Greaves of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
says Walter Willett, head of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health.
And olestra and carotenoids don't mix:
In January 1996, Willett and Harvard colleague Meir Stampfer estimated that olestra's Widespread use in snack foods woul