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Do Synthetic Fat Substitutes Make You Fat? Ask the Rats Who Ate Pringles

Photo: jetalone

In a whopper of counterintuitive research, and another reason to look askance at that supposed wonder of modern food science olestra (Olean), a study published by the American Psychological Association shows that synthetic fat substitutes used in low-calorie potato chips can backfire and contribute to weight gain more so than their fatty counterparts. How do we know? Researchers at Purdue fed Pringles to lab rats. Yes, the mathematically perfect, Einstein-inspired Pringles. Here’s how it worked:
The rats were split into two groups. One was given a high-fat diet, the other a low-fat diet. Half of each group was then fed Pringles, while the other half was fed a combination of Pringles and Pringles Light, which are made with olestra. For rats on the high-fat diet, the group that ate both types of potato chips consumed more food, gained more weight and developed more fatty tissue than the rats that ate only the regular Pringles. What’s more, even after the Pringles were taken away, the fat rats stayed fat. As for the rats on the low-calorie diet, they didn’t experience weight gain from either of the Pringles. But, when they were switched to a high-fat diet, the rats that had eaten both types again ate more food and gained more weight and body fat than the rats that had eaten only the regular Pringles.
The conclusion is that olestra tricks the body with its empty promise of high calories. Foods that taste fatty trigger all kinds of things in your body, including metabolic reactions, in anticipation of a big burst of calories. (Remember Seth Roberts‘s “Shangri-La Diet“?) When the calories don’t come, things get screwy. Considering all the other well-documented side effects that olestra can cause, this doesn’t bode well for a product that’s already had trouble catching on — although, according to a Procter & Gamble website, we’ve already eaten more than 6.6 billion servings of the synthetic fat.
(HT: Eric M. Jones)