Categories of Fat Substitutes

Fat-substitute ingredients fall into three categories: carbohydrate-based, protein-based, and fat-based. Carbohydrate-based fat substitutes are the most common. They are very versatile and found in many types of food products. Carbohydrate-based fat substitutes provide between zero and four calories per gram. When used to replace fat, they may significantly lower the calorie content of a food. Most carbohydrate-based fat substitutes are GRAS substances. Some of these ingredients are only partially digestible. However, when consumed at expected levels, most carbohydrate-based fat substitutes have no digestive effects. Guar gum is an example of a carbohydrate-based fat substitute.

Protein-based fat substitutes are not as numerous as carbohydrate-based ingredients, but they have many applications and can be used in many products, including cheese, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, mayonnaise, and salad dressing. Protein-based fat substitutes cannot be used for deep-frying. Whey protein concentrate is a protein-based fat substitute.


Regular lunch

Calories Fat (g)

Lunch with fat substitutes

Calories Fat (g)

2 slices bread

1 oz. cheese

2 oz. bologna

130 105 180 100 105 140

2 slices bread

1 oz. reduced-fat cheese

2 oz. fat-free bologna

1 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise banana

2 reduced-fat cookies

130 75 40 25 105 120

1 tbsp. mayonnaise banana

2 cookies



The last category of fat substitutes includes those that are fat-based. Because they are made from fat, they often come closest to providing fat's taste and cooking properties. Most Americans have heard of olestra, which is a fat-based fat substitute made from sucrose (table sugar) and fatty acids from vegetable oils. However, unlike sugar and vegetable oils, the body does not absorb olestra because the human digestive enzymes cannot break down such a large molecule. Olestra has the potential to inhibit absorption of some fat-soluble nutrients in the digestive tract, and, to offset any possible effects, products made with olestra have appropriate amounts of vitamins A, D, E, and K added.

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