There is a long list of fat replacers being used in a variety of foods ranging from yogurt to burgers which generally fall into 1 of 3 categories that consists of carbohydrate-based, protein-based and fat-based fat replacers. The purpose of fat replacers is to reduce the amount of fat and calories without compromising flavor. Also, using fat replacers give food manufacturers the freedom to label their products with “low-calorie,” “reduced-fat,” “fat-free” and other such terms since technically speaking fat replacers are low in fat and calories. Let’s look at some.
The carbohydrate-based fat replacers include:
The protein-based fat replacers include:
- microparticulated protein
- modified whey protein concentrate
The fat-based replacers include:
As shown, the list of fat replacers is long and new one’s are being developed everyday. This is why it is important to educate yourself as to what this food ingredient is. Let’s start now by examining two that are commonly used, starting with Proctor and Gamble’s olestra.
Olestra is typically found in potato chips and other snack foods. The good news about olestra is that improvements have been made. Initially, it was found to inhibit the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E, K and carotenoids. However, recently small amounts of these vitamins, with the exception of carotenoids, were added to overcome this inhibitory effect. Now the bad news is that olestra, like most fat replacers, is synthetic, therefore not absorbed by the body and consequently stored into fat deposits.
Next, up is polydextrose. Polydextrose is a carbohydrate-based fat replacer. It is used to increase the non-dietary fiber content in food as well as reduce fat and calories. It’s found in chewing gum, salad dressing, puddings, gelatins and other sweet foods. Producers of polydextrose claim that it possesses the same health benefits as natural fiber. All the same, there is no evidence to support this. For instance, though the body responds to polydextrose in the same way that it does natural fibers by not absorbing it into the intestinal tract thus increasing stool bulk and lowering the caloric intake, polydextrose in contrast to natural fibers doesn’t offer the health benefits of lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Suffice it to say that not all fibers are created equal.
So where does this leave us? Well, we still don’t know about the long-term effects of fat replacers. Moreover, not only do they interfere with the absorption of several vitamins and minerals, but they lack the health benefits of natural foods. Such being the case, natural foods are still the way to go. Natural foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, low in fat and calories, but are also rich in flavor which is ironically what promoters of fat replacers set out to accomplish. This begs the question that if not for some ulterior motives and/or to increase profits why would food producers go through the trouble of finding a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?