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Everything you wanted to know about Olestra

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Olestra is a fat substitute derived from a sucrose molecule, which can support up to eight fatty acid chains, and is too large to move through the intestinal wall. It passes through the digestive system without being absorbed or digested. Olestra was approved as a food additive by the FDA in 1996, and was first used in the WOW brand of chips by Frito Lay. By 2000, sales slowed down, largely due to this warning label mandated by the FDA: “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.” In 2003, the FDA removed the warning requirement, and a number of companies including Proctor and Gamble and Frito Lay relaunched olestra-containing products. Frito Lay’s WOW brand was changed to “Light”.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has outlined a number of concerns regarding the use of olestra. Amoung these include the rapid depletion of fat-soluble substances including cartenoids and vitamins; gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea and fecal urgency; “anal leakage” caused by liquid olestra leaking through the anal sphincter; and possible carcinogenicity.

A study published in the July issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition found that olestra might cause severe gastrointestinal disease. The symptoms in this report are more serious than the average reaction to olestra. Still, the FDA has received more than 20,000 adverse-reaction reports related to olestra. According to CSPI, this is more complaints than the FDA has received for all other additives combined.

Olestra is banned in countries including Canada and Britain, but is still available in the United States.


Centre for Science in the Public Interest (online). Available from [Cited July 18, 2007]. (online) Encyclopedia entry on Olestra.[Cited July 18, 2007].

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