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Vegetarian Journal Cover

Vegetarian Journal


May/June 1997
Volume XVI, Number 3

Nutrition Hotline

By Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D.

Reed Mangels, Ph.D, R.D.


QUESTION: Is Olestra a vegetarian product? A.L., MA

ANSWER: Olestra, also called fake fat or Olean, is a fat substitute which has no calories. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in potato chips, tortilla chips, and crackers. Technically speaking, it is a vegetarian product. Olestra is made from sucrose (sugar) and fatty acids from vegetables. It is not digested or absorbed.

Although Olestra is being promoted as a way to eat greasy snack foods without getting calories from fat, it comes with a large bundle of problems. In the first place, when Olestra is not absorbed, carotenoids like beta-carotene are poorly absorbed also. Carotenoids have been repeatedly shown to be important in preventing cancer, heart disease, and eye problems like macular degeneration. Even at low doses (the amount in about 6 potato chips), Olestra significantly reduces blood levels of carotenoids. This alone seems like a good reason to avoid Olestra. Although foods containing Olestra will have vitamins A, D, E, and K added to them, carotenoids will not be added, nor can other substances which we may not know about but which may be important to health.

Another reason to avoid Olestra is that it can cause stomach cramps and loose stools. In some studies diarrhea occurred when people ate as much Olestra as will be in 16 potato chips.
Although Olestra would appear to be helpful in weight control, this may not be the case. People seem to eat the same amount of calories whether their food contains fat or Olestra. They eat more carbohydrate and less fat, which is good, but unless total caloric intake is reduced, weight loss won't happen. Another possibility is that people may actually eat more food since they know their snack foods are low in fat.

So, Olestra is vegetarian but not recommended.

Rolls, B.J., Pirraglia, P.A., Jones, M.B., et al. 1992. Effects of Olestra, a non-caloric fat substitute, on daily energy and fat intakes in lean men. Am J Clin Nutr 56:84-92.

Weststrate, J.A., van het Hof, K.H. 1995. Sucrose polyester and plasma carotenoid concentrations in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 62:591-597.


QUESTION: I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis two years ago. I am looking for the causes, prevention, and especially information on diet, nutrition, and exercise. D.N.C., PA

ANSWER: Ulcerative colitis is a disease involving the colon (large intestine) and the rectum. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. Its cause is unknown, although there is some speculation that it is due to a problem with the immune system.

The disease is characterized by periods of severe diarrhea and pain followed by symptom-free interludes. Treatment includes drugs, including corticosteroids, diet, and sometimes surgery. A low fiber diet is recommended during attacks to reduce pain and the number of stools. Special, easy-to-digest formulas are sometimes recommended, especially when other foods are not tolerated.

More information may be available from The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, 386 Park Ave., S., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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