What's with this "Olean" or "Olestra" product?

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Dear Ms. Landis,

What's with this "Olean" or "Olestra" product? How can a cooking oil have no fat?
I've heard that this stuff has negative nutrient value -- is this true?

Thanks, Perrin Kerravala (Victoria, B.C.) (WON A BOOK FOR HER SUBMISSION, but already had Herbal Defense, so asked that it be donated to local library. Thank you, Perrin!)

Dear Perrin,

Thank you for your question. It's a great one! It gives me the opportunity to post some links I think
my readers will appreciate. The links below include reports, press releases and articles from Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), stating the facts about "fake fat." They make for great reading, especially if you enjoy reading about severe cramps and diarrhea, horrible gas, "anal oil leakage" and some of the other joys of this additive, as well as corporate lies and denials. (Here, along with their Draconian insistence upon animal testing--only recently scaled back with pressure from PETA--you have one of the many reasons you'll NEVER find a Procter & Gamble product in MY household.)

The great thing about these articles and press releases is not only do they reveal indisputable facts and hard-to-argue science about this travesty, they also expose the political factors that play into something like this even being ALLOWED for sale in the U.S. I don't need to go on and on about the horrific effects of this substance here, because it's been done. The items you can link to below do the job vividly, thoroughly, and with authority.

What you've heard about "negative nutrient value" probably refers to the fact that olean absorbs beta-carotene and removes it from the digestive tract without it being assimilated into the body. Since this is a crucial nutrient believed to have cancer-preventive properties, that's a just another minus for this suspect substance.

What gets me about this stuff is not just that it causes health problems, but that it's completely UNNECESSARY! Why eat chips with fake, chemical, obviously sickening fat--when there are so many wonderful chip and cracker products on the market that are naturally low in fat, or fat free? When I go to my grocery store I can choose from dozens of brands of corn and potato chips that are not only low in fat--or at least moderately so--but also made by responsible, caring companies who use all-natural (in many cases organically grown) ingredients. And they taste great to boot! So if I can have these, why would I eat the fake junk made by those huge conglomerates? Fact is, they had all kinds of unpleasant, undesirable stuff in them even BEFORE they started adding olean to some of them, and they're not products or companies I personally want to support anyway.

I think the production of this kind of substance--and the willingness of the public to consume it--comes from problematic thinking in a few areas:

One is the assumption that if you remove "real" fat from a substance, it will be instantly unappealing and undesirable to all people, and therefore foods that had a whole bunch of real fat must be fortified with a whole bunch of FAKE fat. The assumption is that a food lower in fat will, as a matter of course, taste like cardboard. This is a groundless myth and one that I work hard to make go away. It's simplistic, unfounded bunk. People often say/believe this without trying things. Why did those Ohians who had to go to the emergency room buy fake-fat Pringles® in the first place--when they could have just bought lowfat all-natural Kettle chips? That to me is part of the problem here; consumers are missing opportunities and missing the point.

In turn, companies have an image of Americans as grease gluttons who won't buy anything loaded with oil, so it never even *occurs* to them that, to make something low-fat, they could (duh!) just use less fat. No, they have to replace every bit of fat with a laboratory-derived substitute--even if it makes a lot of people sick.

The truth is, food can taste good with just plain less fat. And there are great companies out there who are proving it. Look at your grocery shelves, try natural food stores, and check out my food brand recommendations list (which needs to be updated again, and soon will be).

Two is the assumption that to be healthy, or healthier, a food (or an entire diet or lifestyle) must have ALL the fat taken out of it. I have been a broken record on this subject the last few years: the goal is not NONFAT, people! It's not even "barely any fat." Moderately low fat is my goal, and I can get there even while eating a FEW things that aren't. That means most of the food I eat is naturally pretty lowfat, but I can (and do) certainly have some not-so-low-fat chips, or cheese, or whatever. In any and every instance, I'm looking to balance TOTAL FOOD QUALITY, encompassing lots of issues--not just fat content, but sugar content; presence of unnecessary chemicals, colors, artificial substances; nutrient value; type of fat (there are healthy and unhealthy fats; and whether ingredients are organically grown). ( See pages 152-158 of my book Herbal Defense for more info on fats.) It's why, for example, I will eat Mi-Del Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (lowfat--NOT nonfat!--"oreo" knockoffs made with organically grown ingredients) and NOT Snackwells.

Yes, considering all those factors when choosing food is a little more complex--and rightly so--than just saying "Hey! It's lowfat! Must be good for ya!" (even if the product is jammed with cheap simple sugars, chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, pesticides--and maybe even a fake fat that'll give you the runs). But it is worth it, in my opinion--and it does become second nature. I've become capable of assessing and "computing" all those factors and more--plus how it will meet my carb,protein and fat requirements for the day--in a lightning-fast split second. It can be done!

I hope that helps...and below are the links!

Olestra: Procter's big gamble

Was Olestra Another AMA 'Endorsement for Hire'?
Consumer Group Raises Ethical Questions About AMA Dealings with Procter & Gamble

Olestra Pringles Sends Ohioans to Emergency Rooms

Frito-Lay Study: Olestra Causes "Anal Oil Leakage"

Snack Attack: Olestra

The Problems With Olestra

What the Experts Say About Olestra: Quotes from Prominent Doctors and Scientists

New Olestra Study: Nothing New

P&G, Frito-Lay, Set to Unleash Diarrhea-causing Olestra on Americans



~ Robyn Landis

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