What Are Fat Substitutes

Fat tends to impart a smooth texture and tastier quality to many foods. For example, most of ice cream's taste and mouth-feel are the result of its rich fat content. However, along with the positive attributes associated with fat in foods, there are some potential negative attributes as well. Fat enhances the energy content of a food. Furthermore, a diet rich in fatty foods contradicts nutritional recommendations. Therefore, food manufacturers have long searched for fat substitutes that would provide the desirable mouth-feel and taste of fat but not the energy content of fat itself.

Earlier substitutes were fairly successful but unable to completely capture the true characteristics of fat. These include plant gums, cellulose, Caprenin, Paselli SA2, N-Oil, Sta-Slim 143, and Maltrin. Researchers have developed several newer fat substitutes, some of which are used in food production today, while others are still awaiting FDA approval. Olestra and Simplesse are two substitutes that offer much promise.

Olestra—Approved for use in savory snack foods, such as chips, in 1996, Olean is the commercial name for Olestra which consists of several fatty acids attached to a molecule of sucrose. The fatty acids provide many of the desirable qualities of fat to be experienced by the mouth. However, since olestra is not digested and absorbed, it comes without an appreciable energy expense. Some scientists have raised concerns associated with the large-scale use of olestra in foods. One concern is that olestra might bind to vitamin E and other fat-soluble vitamins in the digestive tract and decrease their absorption. Furthermore, some nutritionists have expressed concern that olestra can cause digestive discomforts, such as cramping or diarrhea. To accommodate these concerns, fat-soluble vitamins were added to olestra-containing products and a warning statement was mandated by the FDA for a couple years. Although excessive intakes of olestra may have this effect, lower and more typical consumption of olestra-containing products probably does not cause any more digestive problems than regular snacks.

Simplesse—Simplesse is the product of milk and egg proteins, mixed and heat-treated until fine, mist-like protein globules are formed. These protein globules seem to taste and provide a mouth-feel similar to fat. On the contrary, however, this substitute yields much less energy than fat. Simp-lesse's application is limited to cool or cold items, such as cheese, cold desserts, mayonnaise, yogurt, and salad dressings. Heat will break down the fine protein globules, therefore Simplesse is inappropriate for baked or fried items.

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