Synthetic, low, or no-calorie foods are not new. Sugar substitutes began appearing in the marketplace in the 1950s and were hailed as a way for people to "have their cake and eat it, too." They proved beneficial for diabetics and can prevent tooth decay. There have also been controversies about the safety of every artificial sweetener ever introduced. This includes aspartame, which along with some minimal side effects like headaches and malaise in some people, seems to parallel an increase in the incidence of tumors in humans to a point where professor John W. Olney, MD, from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, has called for research to investigate this disturbing possibility.
There has also been debate of artificial sweeteners' effectiveness in promoting weight loss. In tightly controlled studies and strict diet plans, when artificial sweeteners are substituted for sugar, people will lose weight. Unfortunately, the effect of artificial sweeteners on the general population appears to be the opposite. As the use of artificial sweeteners has dramatically increased over the last 30 years, so has obesity in the populations that consume them. Researchers explain this paradox as follows: a person who consumes a diet soft drink instead of a regular one will often rationalize that since their soda is calorie-free, they can now consume a food that has calories, like french fries (550 calories). The 140 calories they lost with the diet soda became a net gain of 400 calories when the eat the french fries that would have been skipped had the regular soda been ordered.
Now the marketplace is being invaded with low fat and calorie-free fat alternatives. Perhaps the mistakes people made with carbohydrate substitutes will not be repeated with the "fake fats." There are four things to remember when consuming these new fats and fat substitutes:
- composed of abnormal molecular configurations foreign to the body can carry potential health risks.
- fats are essential for optimum human health.
- all processed foods including artificial fats and sugars in moderation.
- not make the artificial sweetener mistake by consuming "reward" calories after making a low or no-calorie fat substitution.
Here is a roundup of some of the new players in the artificial fat market.
This fat substitute is designed to imitate the taste and texture of cocoa. Because it is poorly absorbed, it contains only five calories per gram (versus nine for regular fat). Unfortunately, those five calories contain the same amount of saturated fat as cocoa butter. Caprenin will be used in chocolate and some baked goods.
Replace is manufactured from Oatrim, which is made from beta glucan (the soluble fiber in oats) and other starches, along with thickeners like guar gum. When Replace is added to nonfat milk it yields a whole milk taste and texture. Replace is cholesterol-free and provides 2 grams of soluble fiber per eight ounce serving of milk. In addition to dairy, Replace will also be used in some baked goods and processed meats. Look for Z-trim, a competitor made from the insoluble fibers of oats, corn, rice, and soy to enter the market next fall or spring.
Manufactured from whey, Simplesse is a processed protein that contains three to four calories per gram. It has a creamy texture and is most often used in frozen dairy dessert products. It can also be used in cheese products like pizza. Simplesse can be heated but should not be fried.
This is a competitor to Caprenin. Salatrim is made from processed vegetable oils that are difficult for humans to absorb. This yields a similar caloric profile as Caprenin, approximately five calories per gram. Like Caprenin, Salatrim is also high in saturated fat and cannot be used in frying. It can be used in baking and will be seen in low-fat chocolate baking chips.
This is food giant Proctor & Gamble's $200 million, two decade experiment. Trade named Olean, Olestra is made from sugar tightly bound with fatty acids (sucrose polyester). It is nondigestible and, therefore, calorie-free. Olestra is the only artificial fat that can be used in frying. Taste tests report that Olestra products have the feel and flavor of real fats. Two ounces of Olestra potato chips would contain 140 calories and no fat versus 300 calories and 20 grams of fat in regular chips.
Unfortunately, the perfect "fake fat" has a dark side. Olestra can bind fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and prevent their absorption. It can also bind beta carotene and other phytochemicals like lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Olestra can also cause digestive disorders that Proctor & Gamble state is similar to eating a high-fiber diet (gas, bloating and cramps).
However, when people change to a high-fiber diet, bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract will, after a few days, adjust to fiber and symptoms will subside. The only way to stop these symptoms when consuming Olestra is to not eat the product. Preliminary research has also found a higher rate of "rectal or anal" leakage, which I interpret as the politically correct way to say mild diarrhea. (Editor's note: Frito-Lay, testing its own olestra snacks, reported "anal oil leakage" in 3-9 percent of product testers. See "How the Chips Fell: Will P&G convince consumers to swallow its olestra PR campaign?", Mother Jones, May/June 1997, www.motherjones.com.)
Look for Olestra to begin to show up in many types of foods. Consumer groups and researchers will hopefully keep a close watch on the potential health risks of all types of synthetic and artificial fats and fat substitutes.
G. Douglas Andersen, DC
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