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Fat Replacers to Reduce Dietary Fat Intake
Types of Fat Substitutes in Food Like Olestra and Salatrim for Better Weight Control
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Fat Replacements in Food to Reduce Calories & Cholesterol Health Risks

Fat Replacers/ Fat Substitutes

Fat replacers generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Carbohydrate-based fat substitutes
  • Protein-based fat-substitutes
  • Fat-based fat substitutes

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Carbohydrate-based

Many of the low-fat products introduced in recent years contain carbohydrate-based fat replacers (e.g., cellulose, maltodextrins, gums, starches, fiber and polydextrose). These fat-replacers work by combining with water to thicken food, thus making the food 'feel' like fat in your mouth. Carbohydrates have been used safely for many years as thickeners and stabilizers. Foods that use carb-based fat substitutes include: cookies, cakes, brownies, low-fat ice-creams and fat-free salad dressings.

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Protein-based

Protein-based fat replacers are made with egg whites or skimmed milk. They have tremendous potential for use in a variety of products, especially frozen and refrigerated products. Foods that use protein-based fat substitutes include: low-fat cheeses, low-fat frozen desserts and low-fat ice creams.

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Fat-based

By chemically altering fatty acids to provide fewer or no calories, scientists have created fat-based fat substitutes. Brands include Olean (Olestra) and Benefat (Salatrim). These altered-fats type fat substitutes provide fewer calories than regular fats because they cannot be completely digested. Foods that use fat-based substitutes include: tortilla chips, potato chips and a variety of other snack foods. Sometimes, the indigestible part of the fat is excreted, often without proper warning, or else it can lead to stomach cramps.

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Do They Help Weight Loss

Not really. The fact is, much of the fat in our diet comes from staple foods like cooking fats, cooking oils, meat, poultry, cheese and other dairy products. At present, very few of these foods contain fat substitutes. It's mainly snack foods that contain fat substitutes. So by eating lower-fat snack foods, you won't achieve significant weight loss unless you ALSO reduce the amount of fatty meat, full-fat cheese and cooking fat in your daily diet. In fact, some diet experts are concerned that fat substitutes might lead to increased consumption of non-nutritious commercial snacks, with a corresponding rise in levels of obesity and lack of nutrition.

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Are They Safe? - Olestra

The health risk of almost any food is a relative thing. For example, red meat and eggs are highly nutritious foods. But eat too much of them and your cholesterol levels will rise. Even so, we don't ban them.

You might say the same thing about Olestra (brand name Olean). Olestra has been tested for 25 years, in over 150 scientific studies. It is approved by the FDA for use in snack foods. Yet when ingested in large quantities it can cause digestive discomfort, abdominal cramps and other health problems.

Who knows if other health risks may yet surface? Meantime, official advice says it's safe when eaten sensibly.

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Their Role in a Healthy Diet

According to proponents of fat substitutes, fat replacers have opened the door for a new generation of reduced-fat foods that have the taste and texture of popular high-fat foods, but with less calories, cholesterol or fat.

The American Dietetic Association is more circumspect. It has stated, "Fat replacements provide an opportunity for individuals to reduce intake of high-fat foods and enjoy reduced-fat formulations of familiar foods while preserving basic food selection patterns.... Indeed, many of the fat replacements in use today can be incorporated into foods that reflect the changing tastes of Americans. Traditional and new ingredients and technologies provide flavorful, satisfying foods, such as salad and cooking oils, cheeses, ice creams, bakery products, and salty snacks and crackers, that are reduced in fat or contain no fat."

Fat Replacers/Substitutes - Best as PART of a Balanced Diet

However, fat substitutes - no matter how fat-free - do not make a healthy diet. Even if you reduce your fat intake by choosing foods with low-fat fat-substitutes, you still need to satisfy your basic nutritional needs. Reduced-fat products will not replace your need for moderation and good nutrition. Only when incorporated into an overall balanced, nutritious diet, can reduced-fat foods and beverages play a role in helping consumers reach and maintain their goal of reducing consumption of dietary fat, cholesterol and calories.

Sources include:
FDA. US Dept of Agriculture. DHHS. American Dietetic Association. UK National Health Service.

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