Fat Substitutes Are Deceptive Cure-All’s for American Waistlines

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Article Submitted By: Gienie Assink, Springfield OR

We are all familure with slogans such as “low-calorie” and “sugar-free.”  But those are phrases of the past.  These days it’s hard to walk down a supermarket aisle and not notice America’s fixation, perhaps even obsession, with fat. 

It’s a game of how little fat one can ingest while still enjoying all those snack-time favorites.  In today’s market of “nonfat” and “zero fat,” it is even questionable whether products offering modest “low-fat” slogans can remain contenders.  But how long can this fat free frenzy hold its grip on the American population?

Waistlines have continued to grow even in an intense era of fat watching.  A 2004 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that one-third of adults were overweight between 1998-2002.  In previous years, those figures held steady at one-quarter of the population.

Despite America’s current fixation on fat, Maureen Pestine, Department of Human Services nutritionist, says sugar may return as the focus of people’s health in the future.  The biggest concern is that people are eating all these fat-free products thinking this is a way to lose weight.  Generally, the fat-free products have more sugar and carbohydrates.  Unfortunately, these empty calories are a culprit of weight gain, and companies producing these products do not see the problem.

Fat leads to satiety, a feeling of satisfaction.  Without it, people tend to feel less full and often eat more as a result.  Obviously, eating more can cause some problems. 

Current dietary guidelines issued by the American Dietetic Association call for a diet moderate in sugar that includes plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits.  Making broader food choices, focusing on proportionality and balancing food with physical activity are additional suggestions.  But such guidelines lack the magical, cure-all appeal Americans desire.

There seems to be a trend in the increasing popularity of meal-replacement drinks. Boost, and K2O for example, are specifically marketed for people who lead very busy lives and do not have time to prepare a balanced meal.  The availability of replacement drinks has risen, but consumers should be cautions.

Olestra, Proctor and Gambles’ brand of the fat replacer Olean, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration a few years ago.  Though not available in products currently on the market, and only appearing in test markets right now, Olestra may be the trend of the future.

Without sacrificing taste, Olestra allows consumers to cut back on fat and calories and satisfy their urge to crunch at the same time.  It’s additional fatty acids make Olestra too large to be digested or absorbed, so instead, it passes directly through the body. 

For example, a regular 1-ounce bag of chips containing 10 grams of fat and 150 calories would contain 0 grams of fat and only 70 calories with Olestra.  Same taste.  No guilt.  Certainly there must be a catch.

More than 100 tests have been performed on Olestra over the past 25 years.  In high quantities, consumers may experience abdominal cramps or loose stools.  A decrease in the absorption of karotenoids and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K from other foods can also occur.

While Olestra may appear to be a quick solution, some might use it as another excuse to jump on the fat-free bandwagon.  Olestra may eliminate fat grams, but consumers must remain on the lookout for lingering calories.

Scrutinizing popular trends, decreasing overall fat consumption, and eating a reasonable amount of food are solid suggestions.  But the maze of food and nutrition fetishes won’t become any clearer in the future.  Bottom line, we all need to become better consumers.