Ingredient Spotlight: Olestra

Snacks made with olestra are the alternative to full-fat, full calorie snacking – it’s what helps make great tasting savory snacks for today’s health-conscious lifestyles. Since its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996, more than three billion servings of olestra snacks have been sold.


Olestra is a specific type of sucrose polyester blend made from ingredients found in common foods like vegetable oil and sugar. Olestra has the properties of fat but contributes zero fat, zero calories, zero trans fat and zero cholesterol. Olestra is started from soybean or cottonseed oil and the olestra molecule itself is much larger than a regular fat molecule. The size of the molecule makes it impossible for the body to break it down — similar to the way the body reacts to eating other high fiber foods like apples, corn and bran.


Helps Control Fat and Calories: Since fat has more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, high-fat diets often lead to a greater intake of total calories. Olestra provides a no fat or calories option. For example, in a one-ounce serving of potato chips, olestra eliminates all the fat and slightly more than half the calories.

Provides Great Taste: Olestra looks like fat, fries like fat and tastes like fat.  Snacks fried with olestra provide an alternative to full-fat snacks – a practical way to get the taste but still cut fat and calories from the diet.

Can be a Valuable Part of a Healthy Lifestyle: Olestra does not replace the need for dietary moderation and balance. However, olestra is an additional tool to assist people in managing their intake of fat and calories. Studies have shown that products made with olestra are effective in helping people reduce the percentage of calories from fat in their diets, and that olestra snacks can easily be incorporated into a sensible overall healthy eating plan.

Provides More Consumer Choices: Research shows that Americans are continually searching for good-tasting, low-calorie, reduced-fat choices to consume as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. The availability of a variety of low-calorie ingredients, including olestra, allows food manufacturers to choose the most appropriate ingredient, or combination of ingredients, for a given product — the multiple ingredient approach. More ingredients mean more consumer choices.

Health Benefits: Adopting a diet low in fat can help prevent certain types of health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and cancer. When a person consumes more fat and calories than the body requires, obesity can result and from obesity stems such health risks as increased heart disease and the possibility of certain types of cancer.


Olestra is the first FDA-approved fat replacer that is heat-stable at high temperatures, allowing snacks made with olestra to have great taste.  In order to receive approval in 1996, Procter & Gamble (P&G) exceeded FDA guidelines and requirements for assessing the safety of a food ingredient.  The 22-member Food Advisory Committee evaluated the olestra data and overwhelmingly concluded that olestra is safe for use in savory snacks. In fact, former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler called olestra “one of the most extensively studied food substances to date.” In addition, P&G provided more than 20,000 pages of research data on olestra, as requested by interested parties. Over the years, hundreds of clinical tests have validated the safety of olestra.


The research program establishing the safety of olestra substantially exceeded testing generally required for regulatory approval.  Approximately 100 animal studies and 40 human studies were reviewed by the FDA and its Food Advisory Committee. The scientific evidence includes more than 40 tightly controlled clinical studies in more than 5,000 men, women and children and an additional 55 sensory or preference studies in more than 20,000 people. FDA recently reaffirmed that there are “no significant adverse health consequences” associated with olestra consumption.


Olestra does not affect the body’s stores of nutrients nor does it affect the uptake of water-soluble vitamins, minerals, proteins or carbohydrates. Only fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoid can be affected if eaten at the same time as the olestra containing food.  Even heavy snickers only consume these products at one in six meals. Snacks containing olestra will have added fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) to compensate for possible effects on these vitamins. The effect of olestra snacks on carotenoid is within normal variations in carotenoid levels seen with the consumption of common foods, such as dietary fiber.


With typical patterns of consumption, most people will not experience any digestive changes. As research has shown time and again, the digestive changes associated with consuming olestra products are no different from effects associated with other safe foods. The small possibility of mild and temporary effects from eating large amounts of olestra products are similar to those associated with eating other high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables.  In fact, ongoing research has found no difference in the incidence or severity of digestive effects between people who ate olestra snacks and those who ate full-fat snacks used as a control. The FDA removed the requirement for an advisory label in 2003 when it was determined that olestra products did not warrant the warning. The FDA reviewed new scientific data leading to this ruling. The clinical studies involved many people eating olestra-containing products under “real-life” conditions.

Lawrence Cheskin of Johns Hopkins University, who conducted a recent olestra study (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) stated, “If anything, there were more people with regular chips who had complaints. Whatever the explanation is for why people have gastrointestinal complaints, it doesn’t appear to be from the olestra chips.”


The FDA approved olestra for use in savory snacks including potato chips, tortilla chips, cheese curls, corn chips and crackers in January 1996. In 2004, the FDA announced the approval for use of olestra in calorie free cooking oil in prepackaged ready-to-eat popcorn, such as microwave popcorn. The FDA reviewed more than 25 years of research, including more than a 150 studies involving thousands of people. Olestra is one of the most thoroughly tested ingredients ever approved by FDA. It is made by P&G and marketed under the brand name Olean®.  Olestra is suitable for a variety of additional products, including french fries, salad dressing, ice cream, margarine and cheese. It also could be used to replace some or all of the fat in shortening and cooking oil used at home or in the preparation of deep-fried commercial products, however before these applications can be initiated, FDA approval will be necessary.


Olestra has been reviewed by members of the scientific community. These reviews have led to significant statements in support of olestra. These statements include:

“Olestra is a calorie-free fat substitute that has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Among the various fat replacers that have been developed, olestra has been the most extensively studied for its effects on fat and energy intake. Combined with exercise and a reduced-calorie diet, fat-modified foods can be an important part of a healthful eating plan.”
American Diabetes Association

“Fat replacers make it possible for Americans to eat a wide variety of foods without increasing their fat intake, which may already be too high. These products can help consumers achieve a lower-fat diet while still enjoying their favorite foods…Fat replacers like olestra are one of the many acceptable ways to help reduce the amount of fat and calories in your diet.”
American Dietetic Association

“It (olestra) is intended as a fat substitute in foods and in processing since it is not digested or absorbed and passes through the body unchanged. It thus has the potential to reduce the intake of dietary fats as is recommended by various health authorities. It also has a small effect on reducing blood levels of cholesterol and possibly some limited potential in reducing energy intake.”
Institute of Food Science and Technology

“The FDA continues to monitor approved products on an ongoing basis to provide added assurance of safety. The AMA supports the FDA evaluation and approval process and advocates a balanced diet that is healthful and low in total fat for all Americans.”
American Medical Association


To learn more of what millions of Americans have already discovered — olestra, smart choice, great taste, visit www.olean.com and/or www.caloriecontrol.org.

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faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.

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