Food Additives to Avoid: Olestra

Olestra is one of the most well known food additives–but not for very good reasons. Unlike many other chemical-based food additives, it does not have any connections with cancer causing issues. It does, however, pose some health risks, such as bowel movement issues and vitamin absorption deficiencies.

Olestra Information

Olestra, a man made fat substitute that adds zero cholesterol, calories or actual fat to products, was discovered in 1968. This product was accidentally found and it failed to meet FDA requirements as a fat reducing medication that claimed to reduce cholesterol levels. The makers of Olestra then altered the food additive to serve as a zero calorie fat substitute. The product was not approved for use until 1984.

The chemically altered fat additive does not work well with the human body, though. Rather than acting like a normal lipid, Olestra has more fatty acid chains. Instead of passing through the intestines, the fat molecules found in the food product generally get lodged in the intestinal walls.

Olestra Concerns

The US Food and Drug Administration were initially concerned with approving Olestra as a food additive, and for good reason. The FDA believed that marketing the food additive as a zero calorie fat substitute would only encourage people to eat more of the products that included the substance in its ingredient label.

Olestra does not become absorbed by the intestines, but rather is passed straight through. Therefore, people who consume too many products that contain Olestra generally have diarrhea as a result.

In other cases, people who consume normal or high amounts of products containing Olestra have to deal with a condition called steatorrhea. This undesirable effect works much like diarrhea–you lose the ability to control your bowel movements. Because of this side effect, many complaints were made to food producers that continued to use the fat substitute.

Food Additive Dangers

The other function that Olestra consumption hinders involves the body’s ability to absorb some vitamins and minerals. In products containing food additives that disable or hinder your normal bodily functions, food producers often print warning labels on their packaging. In the case of Olestra, some companies add more vitamins to their products and let their customers know about this side effect.

Read Labels

Olestra has caused many people to smarten up about their food choices. When food products have low calories or some sort of health benefit, you tend to think that you have the ability to eat as much or as many as you desire. However, this misinformed assumption most often causes problems.

Looking at Olestra, it’s clear to see how food companies can draw you in to their products. Labels that read “zero calories” or “reduced fat” generally have some sort of food additive included. Although it becomes possible to eat more of these products while keeping calorie consumption low, the additives within them generally hinders your bodily functions.

Just because a product has limited amounts of fat or calories does not mean that other things within the food item will not cause negative side effects.


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