How’s this for irony: Foods that contain artificial fats intended to help people prevent weight gain may actually make you fat, says a recent study conducted by Purdue University.
The study researchers looked at Olestra—the faux fat used in processed junk foods like potato chips and cookies (bad for you on a whole lot of levels regardless of fat content!). “When we get cues that something is fatty, but no calories arrive – like with fat substitutes – our body gets confused,” says Dr. Susan E. Swithers, professor of psychology at Purdue and lead researcher in the study.
Researchers used Pringles brand potato chips and their Olestra-laden Pringles Light version, and found that the groups given the Olestra chips gained more weight and had increased difficulty losing the weight even after the chips were no longer a part of their diet. “When a food tastes fatty, our body gets a signal that a large number of calories are coming. It triggers metabolic reactions and various hormonal secretions anticipating fat, calories, and other food nutrients that it would process. Fake fats interfere with this regulation,” according to Swithers. “This confusion can make the body stop preparing to digest fatty food when it does come.”
While banned in the UK and Canada, Olestra is still available in the U.S. Organizations including the Center for Science in the Public Interest have been pushing to have it banned here, but it remains on the shelves. Olestra (also Olean) was discovered “by accident” by Proctor and Gamble food scientists. It’s synthesized from sucrose and made to bond with a number of fatty acids, thereby becoming too large to be absorbed through the intestinal wall so it passes through the GI-tract undigested, contributing no caloric gain. It is also known for serious side effects, including intense abdominal cramping, diarrhea and may cause malabsorption or deficiency in key nutrients.
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