Food
Fact-checked

At DelightedCooking, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What Is Olestra? Understanding the Fat Substitute in Modern Food Products

Olestra is a synthetic fat substitute, designed to add texture to foods without the calories or cholesterol. Crafted by scientists, it passes through the body undigested, allowing for guilt-free indulgence in snacks. However, its introduction sparked debate over potential digestive side effects. Wondering how Olestra might fit into a healthy diet? Let's explore its uses and implications further.
Lynne William
Lynne William

Olestra is a fat substitute used in the cooking and preparation of foods, most commonly those foods normally containing high concentrations of fat. Potato chips were one of the first commercially available products to have it used in their preparation. The benefit is the extreme lowering or complete elimination of a traditionally fatty food's fat content. Like insoluble fiber found in corn and apples, olestra is not digested or absorbed by the body, and it passes through the human digestive system completely unchanged.

Olestra, also known by the brand name Olean®, was discovered by researchers Fred Mattson and Robert Volpenhein of Proctor & Gamble (P&G) in 1968. The original study, which surrounded fats that could be more easily digested by premature infants, led to P&G contacting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1971 to investigate the testing that would be necessary to manufacture and market Olean® as a food additive, specifically as a fat replacement.

Potato chips made with olestra.
Potato chips made with olestra.

In the testing that followed, P&G scientists noted an interesting side effect when olestra was used to replace natural dietary fats. A drop in the level of blood cholesterol resulted when olestra was used. P&G subsequently filed a request with the FDA to market olestra as a drug in the treatment of high cholesterol. However, P&G's studies failed to produce the 15% decline in cholesterol levels to quality olestra as a treatment.

Several brands of "light" potato chips use Olestra as a low-fat substitute for dietary fat.
Several brands of "light" potato chips use Olestra as a low-fat substitute for dietary fat.

It wasn't until 1996 that the FDA finally approved olestra as a food additive. The first product to use Olean® as a substitute for dietary fat was the WOW® brand of potato chips by Frito-Lay®. Following their national launch in 1998, the WOW® chips were initially successful, raking in sales in excess of $400 million US Dollars (USD). However, due largely to reports of certain unpleasant side effects that were subsequently listed on a health warning label on the product as mandated by the FDA, sales dropped sharply.

Abdominal cramping is one possible side effect of olestra.
Abdominal cramping is one possible side effect of olestra.

The side effects—including loose stools, abdominal cramping, and olestra's interference with the body's ability to absorb certain crucial vitamins, namely Vitamins A, D, E, and K—were enough to cut sales in half by 2000 to $200 million USD. Although the intestinal side effects, which became commonly known as "anal leakage" in the media, occurred only as a result of over-consumption, it was enough to tarnish the product's reputation and diminish consumer appeal. Citing further studies, the FDA decided that the warning label wasn't warranted and approved its removal despite complaints numbering over 20,000 regarding side effects. It has also been proven since the time of the original studies that Olean® has no impact on the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.

Olestra will pass through the human digestive system completely unchanged.
Olestra will pass through the human digestive system completely unchanged.

Olestra, under the brand name Olean®, is still used primarily as a fat substitute in the manufacture of certain savory snack foods including Lays® Light Potato Chips, Doritos® Light Snack Chips, Pringles® Light Potato Crisps, Ruffles® Light Potato Chips, and Tostitos® Light Tortilla Chips. The FDA declared Olean® as "Generally Regarded As Safe" (GRAS) in late 2008 for use in the production of prepackaged, ready-to-eat cookies using Olean® BakeLean. BakeLean products are proprietary blends of Olean® and vegetable oils used as a substitute for butter, margarine, and shortening in the manufacture of baked goods, reducing the calories and fat content of the end product by 75%. Olean® is not approved for use or sale in Canada or the European Union.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Olestra?

Olestra is a synthetic fat substitute that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996. It is a non-digestible fat made of sucrose molecules and fatty acid molecules that are chemically linked together. Olestra is used as a substitute for real fat to reduce the fat and calorie content of foods. It is tasteless, odorless, and has similar physical properties to real fat, which makes it ideal for use in a variety of food products.

What are the benefits of using Olestra?

Using Olestra provides several benefits for both food manufacturers and consumers. It reduces the fat and calorie content of food products without sacrificing their flavor or texture. This makes it easier for consumers to choose healthier food options. Additionally, Olestra is resistant to spoilage, which allows it to be used in shelf-stable products without the need for preservatives.

Are there any risks associated with consuming Olestra?

Consuming Olestra can cause some potential risks, including abdominal cramping, loose stools, and other gastrointestinal symptoms for some people. Olestra can also interfere with the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients, so it is important to consume a balanced diet when consuming foods containing olestra.

Is Olestra found in many food products?

Yes, Olestra is used in a variety of food products, including potato chips, french fries, and other snack foods. It is also used as a fat substitute in some bakery products, such as cakes and cookies.

Is Olestra safe to consume?

Yes, Olestra is generally considered safe to consume. The FDA has approved its use in food products, and it has been used in the food industry for over 20 years. However, as with any food product, it is important to read the label and follow the recommended serving size to avoid any potential risks associated with consuming Olestra.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon186843

I have been eating Pringles and Lays with Olestra for years. As long as I eat just a few (4-15) chips, I have not experienced any of the side effects. Now, If I over indulge and eat more than that, I will get a loose stool. As with anything, moderation is the key!

anon179647

my son ate Pringles Light chips with Olestra last night for the first time. Oh my gosh! He had the most horrible stomach cramps and vomiting all night long. He started getting sick within 20 minutes of eating the chips. He has not been that sick in years. Olestra should be banned!

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Potato chips made with olestra.
      By: andersphoto
      Potato chips made with olestra.
    • Several brands of "light" potato chips use Olestra as a low-fat substitute for dietary fat.
      By: anjelagr
      Several brands of "light" potato chips use Olestra as a low-fat substitute for dietary fat.
    • Abdominal cramping is one possible side effect of olestra.
      By: sframe
      Abdominal cramping is one possible side effect of olestra.
    • Olestra will pass through the human digestive system completely unchanged.
      By: blueringmedia
      Olestra will pass through the human digestive system completely unchanged.