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The Nation

Warning on Olestra Snacks Lifted

FDA says the fake fat's possible side effects of cramps, diarrhea are, if anything, mild and rare.

August 02, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Snacks made with the fake fat olestra no longer will have to bear the unappetizing label that warned they might cause cramps and diarrhea.

The Food and Drug Administration lifted the warning Friday, concluding that if the zero-calorie fat substitute has any stomach-troubling effect, it is mild and rare.

The FDA approved olestra's sale in 1996, providing packages bore labels spelling out possible gastrointestinal side effects. The synthetic chemical made of sugar and soybeans tastes like fat but passes through the body undigested.

The warning caused something of an uproar and helped limit olestra's slower-than-anticipated sales.

The consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest repeatedly urged the FDA to remove olestra from the market, noting embarrassing episodes it had caused some consumers. Ultimately, the FDA received about 20,000 reports of gastrointestinal complaints among olestra eaters.

But olestra maker Procter & Gamble argued that the fake fat was safe and the complaints a coincidence -- after all, the company said, stomach upset and diarrhea are common.

Friday, the FDA said it was convinced by a study that tracked how 3,000 people felt after eating chips during a six-week period. Half ate chips with olestra, and half ate chips they thought contained olestra but really didn't, said FDA food additive chief George Pauli.

The olestra eaters had only slightly more frequent bowel movements than the people who ate full-fat chips, he said.

Of more concern to the FDA was that people had falsely attributed serious health problems to olestra because of the warning label.

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