Olestra is a non-digestible plastic, made by adding eight fatty acid
molecules to the sugar molecule
sucrose. The fatty acids block access to the
sugar, so enzymes can't break it down.
The result is a molecule that behaves like a fat, but cannot be digested
by humans or their intestinal bacteria.
The manufacturing process creates many different molecules, some with
fewer than eight fatty acids, and with many different fatty acid
chains other than those pictured above.
Olestra is currently only approved for use in savory snacks, such as
Because Olestra is not digested, it behaves much like mineral oil.
The laxative properties are widely discussed, and appear on the
label. Like other indigestible lipids, Olestra can dissolve fat
soluble vitamins and carotenoids, making them unavailable.
The molecules in Olestra have been modified since it was first
marketed, to avoid some of the more unpopular side effects, but
some remain. Adding carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins to the
product has also been done, but this does not eliminate all of the
problems with nutrient absorption.
Most users do not encounter problems.
It is unclear at this time whether affected individuals accommodate
over time, like they do with
and some other sugar alcohols which produce similar problems.
By Simon Quellen Field