September 28, 2004

Secret Olestra

So, Lays has changed the packaging of their olestra-containing potato chips.

Formerly “WOW!”, the new chips are Lay’s Light.

Even with my previous interest in olestra and Olean1 I didn’t recognize the product. I picked up the bag and took a closer look. I put it back down. It wasn’t until a second look that I realized it must have Olean in it. Sure enough, down near the bottom crimp, there is the olean symbol. The warning about loose stools is gone. Olestra has moved on to the next phase as a more invisible ingredient in the food supply.

I don’t have any specific beef with olestra. I am not an anti-olestra fanatic.2 But I do find it interesting and slightly alarming how ingredients come out of (seemingly) nowhere and creep toward ubiquity. As consumers, we have to pay close attention to ingredients, because (clearly) the food industry is trying to make it harder. If this packaging switch made me look twice, it is probably going to be effective with people looking to lose weight and also looking for a snack.

1 When olestra first hit the market back in the 90’s, I had a website poking fun at Procter & Gamble’s fake fat product which allegedly caused loose bowels and vitamin deficiency. It attracted the interest of P&G who went as far as to offer me a trip to their headquarters to talk to their scientists. I declined. I wasn’t really an anti-olestra activist; I just thought the stuff was funny. Nonetheless, Adbusters awarded me with 6 free issues for my anti-corporate efforts. Go figure.

2 I updated this statement because, although I am not an anti-olestra activist, I guess I do have a beef with the ingredient. I can’t say I’m really thrilled with an additive that loosens your bowels and depletes vitamins. But so far it appears to be well within the boundaries of edibility.

Posted by James at September 28, 2004 4:52 PM
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Has Olean been modified/enhanced over time, or does it still have the problems you pointed out in the OLeak days?

Posted by: Jim at September 28, 2004 4:56 PM

I recall that P&G claimed that Olestra-related problems were negligible if the product was consumed in the recommended serving size (I think 1 oz.).

Most chip enthusiasts eat way more than the recommended serving size. Many will eat twice as much if they think they're getting only half the calories. They would be shocked if they knew just how small one ounce of potato chips is.

Posted by: Julie at September 28, 2004 5:25 PM

(I've updated the entry to be a little more specific)

As far as I know, Jim, Olean is still the same old Oleak. I still think it's funny (I took my site down because the joke got a little bit old for me) but it's just not that big a deal.

However, I would still not give the stuff to my children. On the other hand, I consume a good deal of sucralose and aspartame, so I am obviously not big on avoiding all calorie-reducing additives.

I ahven't seen any studies showing long term negative effects associated with olestra. So the science seems to say the stuff should remain GRAS (generally regarded as safe). Anal leakage, however, remains worthy of a chuckle or two.

Posted by: James at September 28, 2004 5:28 PM

I've still never tried it, thanks to your original Oleak[tm] awareness post.

Posted by: Mike at September 28, 2004 8:20 PM

I thought that we read an article some time ago which said that chips with olestra didn't cause any more cramping or anal leakage than chips with "real" fat?

Chips aren't healthy, no matter how you eat them. I ate an entire bag of baked lays the other day, which is why we don't have any chips of any kind in the house!!

(BTW, no cramping or leakage problems. But I can't eat very many full-fat chips without feeling ill.)

Posted by: Maggie at September 29, 2004 7:27 AM

Maggie - yes, that is true if you stick to the recommended serving size. They don't talk about what happens if you eat more than 1 oz (about a big handful).

Posted by: Julie at September 29, 2004 12:25 PM

I miss the Oleak site. Good times.

Posted by: briwei at September 29, 2004 4:14 PM

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