f the fittest. Primitive man hadto forage and hunt for food from nature. Therefore, humans developed keen taste
receptors for fat-rich, caloric foods. Because the availability of food was uncertain, those
who had stores of fat in their bodies, would be more able to survive the harsh conditions
of primitive life.
In modern times, we still have the same though weakened taste receptors of
primitive man. Thus, we still have the affinity for sugar because sugar was hard to come
by in primitive times-all sugar had to be supplemented by plants and fruits. But mostly,
today, the affinity for fat has been responsible for a multi-million dollar diet food
industry. Recently, Procter&Gambol has synthesized a fat which does not behave like
other fats. It is a synthetic substance, because it is not found in nature, called Olestra
Other attempts have been made for the perfect fat substitute, from using apple
sauce in cake batters to prune juice. But never has there been a successful fat-free
substitute which is actually a fat. This synthesized substance, Olestra, is touted to be the
ultimate fat. It has the same richness that characterizes fat, and which satisfies our tongue
receptors. Olestra is also heat-resistant, which means that traditionally fattening
fast-foods and junk foods, can be prepared with fat-free oil.
The development of Olestra came serendipitously when scientists started to
research different fat forms for infants in 1959. Infants need high fat diets to begin with,
but it was apparent that premature infants had a hard time digesting certain fats so
research was done in finding a fat which could be more easily digested.
Scientists first experimented with the traditional ester model of a fat. A
combination of an alcohol, sorbitol, and fatty acids. They tried attaching only 1 fatty acid,
and found that the result was well digested. When they tried 2 F.A.s the resulting
molecule was even better digested and best digested when 3 F.A.s were used. But when
they tried attaching 4-6 F.A.s, the structures digestibility progressively got worse, until 6
fatty acids were completely indigestible. This sorbitol/acid ester interested scientists, and
they decided to take their research further, and toward a different direction, that of fat
indigestibility. Sorbitol was an expensive commercial food ingredient, so sucrose
polyesters were used instead. In accordance with the triglyceride model, a polyester of
sucrose (C12H22O11) rings bound by alcohol groups with 6-8 fatty acid side chains. This
is known as sucrose polyester.
The body absorbs triglycerides, but not Olestra though they are both large
molecules. Other triglycerides are cut up by enzymes called lipase in our intestines by the
lock and key mechanism. But in the case of Olestra, there is no space between the
cramped fatty acid molecules, and so the spaces between the fatty acid molecules are
concealed, hidden, rendering lipase useless. This is why Olestra can go through the
gastrointestinal tract without being digested or absorbed.
Along with the innovations of this discovery, come the faults of the original
Olestra structure. In preliminary findings, Olestra caused vitamin depletion. Vitamins
A,D,E, and K are fat soluble. They attach to fat. So when Olestra comes along, the
vitamins would go through the GI tract too. Procter&Gambol corrected this problem by
adding vitamins to foods containing Olestra. This way, the Olestra molecules need to
bind to vitamins was gone, and no additional absorption of vitamins occurred.
Carotenoids such as carrots, cantaloupe, and dark-green, leafy vegetables had a
similar problem. Carotenoids aid in preventing many types of cancers but some are fat
soluble. P&G did not correct this problem because carotenoids and Olestra were not
normally mixed by most people. Ex. broccoli and potato chips, crackers and cantaloupe.
Depletion only occurs when these two are consumed at the same time.
The politics involved in marketing Olestra was rigorous. In 1971, P&G applied
for its first patent for Olestra. The FDA usually takes 1/2-6 years to review such
proposals. Tests still showed that Olestra still caused minor GI problems such as
flatulence and diarrhea, but not clinical diarrhea, which is fatal. These problems were
bothersome, but not dangerous. Tests had to be conducted and this was difficult because
Olestra is a macro-molecule-it can take up as much as 1/3 the weight of the food it is
being used in. It is not simply a food additive such as MSG. So toxicology tests on
animals could only be accurate if the usual testing dose of 100 times the human serving
was used. But that amount