A Look at Fat Substitutes

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The war on fat in the past decades drove food manufacturers to replace fat in many food items. One way is to continue providing the creamy texture and quality of fat but not its caloric content by using fat substitutes.

Fat substitutes can be divided into 3 categories:

Sugar-based fat substitutes: e.g. dextrins, maltodextrins, modified food starches, cellulose and various gums.

They are the ancestors of fat substitutes, which entered the market in 1960s and are still the most widely used. They are able to replace fat's bulkiness and moistness, but are unable to replace fat's cooking qualities. While 1 gram of fat yields 9 kcal, these sugar-based substitutes only yield 1-4 kcal per gram.

Protein-based fat substitutes: Simpless by NutraSweet Company

They are extracted from whey protein concentrate of proteins from egg whites and milk. First appeared in the market in late 80s, protein-based substitutes yield 4 kcal per gram but are unable to withstand high heat.

Fat-based fat substitutes: Olestra

Olestra cannot be broken down by the body for absorption and therefore passes through the GI unaltered and provides no calories. It produces the mouthfeel of real fat and can withstand high heat.

Concerns have been raised on its possible side effects and its interaction with other nutrient absorption. As it cannot be digested, Olestra can cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea. On the other, Olestra inhibits fat-soluble vitamins (Vit A, D, E and K) and carotenoids. Manufacturers promised to fortify food products with the fat-soluble vitamins.

As limited studies have been conducted in children, teens and elderly on the effect of olestra, it is not recommended for consumption by these populations until more comprehensive researches have been performed.

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