Label Decoder: Olestra

by in Grocery Shopping, July 23, 2010

potato chips

When I was in graduate school, some of my fellow dietetic students tracked down one of the first stores where the nonfat fried chips were being sold. The employee that answered the phone explained how he’d downed an entire package and had a horrible stomach ache (though he was a bit more descriptive of his symptoms). From that day on, I knew chips fried in Olestra weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

What Is It?
Olestra is a synthetic fat that goes by the brand name “Olean.” It acts and tastes like fat in food, but isn’t digestible by the body. Basically, it passes right through you. This also means that olestra has no calories (since your body doesn’t absorb it).

Olestra is used as a fat substitute primarily in fried snack foods like chips. Proctor & Gamble originally decided to market olestra as a way to help people lose weight and lower the risk of heart disease.

Is It Safe?
Olestra is known to cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, flatulence, and sometimes these symptoms can be very severe. It also reduces the body’s ability to absorb certain vitamins that attach themselves to fat (called fat-soluble vitamins), including vitamin A, D, E and K.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) categorized olestra as unsafe and says it’s best to avoid it. Instead, choose baked chips without olestra that won’t give you the potentially dangerous side effects. CSPI also urges folks to fill out this form if they’re afflicted with the above symptoms after eating foods containing olestra.

TELL US: Have you tried chips containing olestra?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (11)

  1. Laura says:

    I like them – though I miss the Cheddar Ruffles!! And I always wanted Fritos….

  2. Adam says:

    very timely post, to go along with the Baked Chips Tasting.. some of the comments there mentioned chips with olestra, and i mentioned the nasty side effects.. no way would i want to consume anything with that stuff

  3. Kate says:

    I have been eating these chips since they first came out and I have never suffered these side effects. I think people who may have stomach issues to begin with may be more affected by Olestra. I wish you could purchase it to use for cooking.

  4. dots says:

    Lay's Light Ruffle chips made with Olean are just about the only chips I will eat. I have never, ever had any problem because of eating them. The only problem is…….I have a hard time finding them.

  5. Nancy says:

    My entire family eats chips containing Olestra, we have been since they came out, and we've never had any side effects. In fact my teen aged son eats the entire bag as a single serving and has never had any gastric problems afterward.

    • Jessie says:

      Maybe it's because your bodies have built up a tolerance from eating so many foods with chemical additives. Just like an alcoholic who can drink a whole bottle of booze without getting sick, your son can down a whole bag of chips because he has a high tolerance to Olestra.

  6. Sheryl says:

    I love both the Pringles and the Lays potato chips! I have been eating these for years and have never had any problems. My husband is a doctor and he loves them as well.

  7. Sue says:

    I had one small bag of chips……with all of the terrible side effects described in the article. I will never eat anything with Olestra again!

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