When Good Science goes Bad

There was a time when it seemed that fats (all of them) were the "villan" in the whole nutrition thing. The 1990's were the decade of "fat is bad" and let's avoid fat by any means possible. Enter the world of low-fat or even no-fat foods. Fat's were being pulled from all sorts of our favorites. And when I say favorites, I am talking about processed foods, not raw foods. Dropping and lowering the fat content in processed foods certainly lowered the calorie content and those trying to keep their calorie count down were in luck because there were all sorts of options throughout the '90s... some of them even made it beyond and they are still around today for those that are limiting their fat content.

The problem was that when you remove fat, you remove much of the flavor, mouth feel, and just plain enjoyment of those foods. An oreo or chips ahoy cookie was just not the same. Ice cream lost it's creaminess. In theory the "guilt" was being removed from many of life's culinary guilty pleasures. The sad truth was that most folks who tried the substitutes just ate more of them to get that satisfied and satiated feeling. Eating more just upped the calories again and no one really lost any "real" weight. Ok, it worked for a few who were very good about not having more than the published "serving size". What to do? Can science save us from this terrible conundrum?

A Bright Idea?

We obviously love fat and all the tastiness it brings. Cutting it out is NOT satisfying at all. So why not try to come up with a fat alternative that is actually fatty and our taste buds will love it but also make it so that your body just can't really metabolize it. This is like the silver bullet or "unicorn" of food science - a fat that has zero calories... bring in the mad scientists.

It wasn't really a stretch to do what Proctor and Gamble (P&G) did in the 1960's and patented in 1968. They thought, instead of using glycerol as the support for fatty acids and making a triglyceride, why not use another polyalcohol and bind the same fatty acids to it? Heck, let's use sucrose - good ol' table sugar as our support. It has not 3 hydroxyls, but 8 of them! We can bind 8 fatty acids through ester links to make a monster fat - a octasucraride... OK, I made that word up --- a big-ass fat molecule that is still a polyester just like triglycerides. Yes, they did that in 1968 and the name of that monster fat was Olestra. The brand of that fat molecule was Olean. So Olestra and Olean are really the same things. Below (from Wikipedia) is a 3D structure of olestra. Criss-cross your eyes and you can "see" the 3D for real.



Please feel free to google olestra and read all the stories. I'll attempt a much shorter narrative here. After many failed attempts for FDA approval, P&G finally did get approval with the requirement that all foods made with olestra have warning. a warning something like this:

WARNING: Olestra may cause abdomial cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K have been added.

Well, if you read more on the topic, you will find out that the warning label is the understatement of the decade. Olestra containing foods became the joke of the year. Late night hosts made joke after joke and the public really learned first hand what a "loose stool" was and even "anal leakage". Almost all encounters with these products lead to the same ultimate conclusion that envolved some serious time with your toilet. People everywhere were shitting themselves and they were not happy about it. The FDA got more complaints over olestra than all other products combined in their entire history. The product never really got banned by the FDA either (it did in some countries) - but the economics of consumer's loose stools won out. The sells plummeted and most all the products disappeared after a few years.

Another Product with Similar Results

Another product with a similar result is lycasin which is a hydrogenated glucose syrup that is used as an artificial sweetener. A major component is maltitol which has that same unpleasant gastro-effect that olestra did. Evidently, a little goes a long way. Here is the Amazon page for purchasing - don't purchase, but DO read some of the entertaining reviews that serve as warnings not to get this stuff - or like many in those reviews, you will take it on as a challenge.

Here's your link to Haribo Sugarless Gummy Bears - 5 lb bag on Amazon. Scroll for the reviews, there are over 1000 of them - although the best ones are up front and have the most views and thumbs up.

Or, how 'bout an actual Forbes article on it: That Time Gummy Bears Gave Everyone Diarrhea



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