More Fat Talk: Olestra and Butter


Do you remember all the WOW chips that came out in the late 90's offering the answer to our prayers? They satisfied our crunchy, salty urges and were actually fat-free. No, not just fat-free baked kind of things, but they tasted like they were made with fat. Lots of people trying to watch their weight were in chip heaven. Yep, life was good. Until...an hour after they ate a bunch of them. One gal I was working with ate a whole bag of chips and described her ordeal of cramps as worse than labor with her 3 kids. Whoa...


Olestra. The miracle that wasn't. Reader krispy kreme thought olestra's days were over, and then noticed quite by accident that it is still hidden in some products. What's the real scoop on olestra?

Olestra is actually a "fake-fat" molecule. Chemically, they start with a sucrose molecule (sugar) and attach 6-8 fatty acid chains to it, so it looks kind of like a big octopus. Natural fats usually have 3 fatty acids (ever heard of triglycerides?) These octopus dudes are so big, that our body can't digest them, so they just run on out of our digestive system. Literally. The enzymes that usually break down the fats we eat can't touch them: the untouchable octopuses. Olestra creates such havoc in some systems that it creates gas, cramping, diarrhea and something called steatorrhea. (*Don't read this if you are easily grossed out: people were noticing leaking of yellow-orange oily stuff on underwear and in toilets. Egad! You need to wear diapers to eat this stuff?) The FDA received a record 20,000 consumer complaints in the first 5 years of olestra in food, which is more than all other food additives combined. Ouch!

As if that weren't enough of a problem, olestra was grabbing all the fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,& K) and carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and running off with those before the body had a chance to absorb them. So, manufacturers started adding vitamins back in. Excuse me, but why? We have a major problem here, and throwing a few vitamins in is not going to make it go away.

Great news, though. Proctor & Gamble is now using olestra to make eco-friendly paints and lubricants under the name Sefose. That, I love. It's the perfect use for the stuff.

Olestra isn't used very often anymore since consumers' rebelled, but it is still OK'd for use by the FDA and you will find it occasionally in foods.

Though many would tell you it's just fine used in moderation, I am going to take a stand here. Avoid olestra like the plague. Use the baked chips, or an occasional small serving of regular chips. Your body will thank you!

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And now the butter question. My nephew is doing a science fair project and wants to know: is it safe to leave butter out on the counter to stay soft? He and his teammate are doing a great experiment comparing butter and Smart Balance and are trying to see what happens over time when the two are kept in/out of the refrigerator. I'm so proud!

Butter needs to be refrigerated for food safety. If left out on the counter to soften for a few hours or days, it has the perfect environment for bacterial invasion. That puts us at risk for getting sick. I know, we've all eaten butter that's been left out and never gotten sick. That's great, but that doesn't mean there won't be a problem. The salt in butter acts is a preservative and the fat itself also acts a preservative, so the butter may not become "funny smelling" or rancid very quickly. But the butter could still smell, look and taste just fine, and still have bacteria in it. It's always better to be safe than sorry!

Keep your butter refrigerated, as you would any dairy product. Want soft butter? Try the Land O Lakes soft butter with canola or olive oil whipped in it. It's just butter, salt and the oil, nothing else. Stays soft in the fridge, and much healthier for you!