In 1996 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new synthetic fat called olestra. Olestra is a sucrose polymer that has absolutely no food value. In fact, there have been problems associated with Olestra that make its use and safety highly questionable under certain circumstances.
Olestra is known to cause diarrhea and cramping. It also robs the body of valuable nutrients called carotenoids. Carotenoids are carotenes (hydrocarbons) that occur in yellow vegetables like carrots, squash, and corn. Carotenes are stored in the liver and converted to vitamin A by the liver. The loss of these nutrients can cause an increase incidence of cancer, heart disease, and blindness.
Originally, olestra was created to provide consumers with a fat-free food substitute that did not change the taste or texture of the food it appeared in. For over twenty-five years, corporate giant Proctor and Gamble had worked on creating such an ingredient. In fact, the company was so sure its product would revolutionize food processing that it created an "Olestra Division" to create and market the additive. Unfortunately for Proctor & Gamble, the FDA approval process dragged on for years, to the extent that other companies were able to come up with their own olestra-like substances
After years of conducting internal and external tests, the FDA gave conditional approval for olestra use in snacks like potato chips and crackers. According to FDA guidelines, foods containing olestra must carry a warning label common to all synthetic food additives. This warning notes possible side effects and complications from use.
The warning was not enough for some groups, however. The Center For Science in the Public Interest, for example, feels that olestra has not been tested enough, and could cause dangerous, long-term side effects like cancer and heart disease. Despite the controversy, products containing olestra have been test marketed in limited areas with generally positive results. For the time being at least, Proctor & Gamble plans to create more snack foods containing the fake fat.