That full-fat flavor

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: November 14th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For diet-conscious junk food lovers, the news was like a gift from above. Imagine eating potato chips with full-fat flavor without any of the fat calories. The secret was Olestra, a non-fat cooking oil, and in 1998, it seemed to be everywhere. Consumers were snatching up bags of Wow!-brand potato chips and fat-free Pringles as quickly as they could be put on shelves.

Today, you hardly see any references to the so-called miracle product. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t consuming Olestra… you just aren’t hearing about it.

Most of us have heard about Olestra’s drawbacks. The substance is made with a real fat… vegetable oil… but is then processed so it can’t be absorbed by the body. Instead, the product, including all its fat and calories, is excreted. As legions of snack-lovers soon discovered, food that can’t be digested by the body can lead to bouts of diarrhea and unexpected accidents. Soon, the U-S Food and Drug Administration intervened and required all products containing Olestra to carry a warning label.

But the substance didn’t disappear. In fact, in 2003, the F-D-A dropped the warning label requirement, saying Olestra didn’t really cause more distress than regular fried foods. That meant companies could then add Olestra without any fanfare.

Today, Olestra can be found in a variety of salty snack foods. So if you want to avoid Olestra…whatever the reason… be sure to read the label before diving into a bag of chips.