Sunday, October 29, 2000

Digesting the olestra uproar




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        The other day I ate some olestra, and ... OK, you can stop tittering now. Nothing happened. I felt fine. More importantly, my underwear looked fine.

        Poor Procter & Gamble. Four years after its fat substitute hit the market, some people still associate it with grossness. Sales started fairly strong and then slacked off. Canada banned the chemical altogether.

        P&G is countering with studies. According to this month's press release, olestra has a positive effect on the heart.

        Nineteen research subjects ate either a high-fat muffin or a low-fat one made with olestra. The olestra eaters showed “drastic improvements” in blood flow to the heart shortly after the breakfast, the study found.

        Of course, it was sponsored by P&G, which makes it less “objective” science.Plus, what's a heart study compared to sexy quotes about loose stools?
       

The pajama problem
               The master of this realm is Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In 1997, he said this about olestra to U.S. News & World Report:

        “Here's something added to the food supply by multibillion-dollar corporations that's making people poop in their pajamas. It's insane!”

        I decided to conduct my own digestive test. On one day, I ate two bags of Frito-Lay's Wow! brand of potato chips. Six days later, I had several big handfuls each of Wow! Tostitos and P&G's own fat-free Pringles.

        No problem. I felt full but not loose. The chips tasted good, actually.

        For more insight into olestra's image, I checked with shoppers at the Meijer store in Florence. They really opened up about their intestines. Oh joy.

        One woman said her daughter has irritable bowel syndrome and can't eat olestra. Another shopper said he had never heard of the stuff. He looked disgusted when I read him the warning label on a can of fat-free Pringles.

        “I don't think I'd better eat any of them,” he said.

        Gary and Debbie Vogelgesang remember watching a TV news program about olestra's potential side effects.

        “I would never try them,” Mr. Vogelgesang said.

        If new studies show a good side to olestra, “I don't think people are convinced yet. I'm not,” Mrs. Vogelgesang says.
       

Shoppers tell all
               Other folks had olestra confused with everything else.

        “Is that the one that can cause cancer?” asked Bonita Helton of Elsmere.

        Not according to the federal government, which requires a warning about loose stools and abdominal cramps, but nothing about cancer risk.

        “It didn't bother us at all,” said Jean Bowling of Hebron, whose family eats the snacks. “I feel better about eating them than regular old potato chips. I probably would use more products that had olestra in them.”

        Then there's Kristen Offutt of Florence, who ate two chips and had to run for the bathroom. But she has a delicate stomach, she says, and only bought the Pringles because her husband wanted to save fat grams.

        He loves the Pringles, but her olestra days are over.

        “I know my stomach,” she says.

        That's just the thing: Most of us do. Sexy quotes from the food police only go so far. After that, it's every person's intestines for themselves.

        E-mail ksamples@enquirer.com.
       

       



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