Getting fat off non-fat

A fat substitute with some unpleasant potential side effects pits junk food against junk science

Still, CSPI has raised important issues and consumer awareness about a product expected to be widely distributed in the food supply. Its charge that olestra removes certain nutrients from the body is borne out by studies. P&G was forced to fortify olestra with vitamins A, D, E, and K to ensure FDA approval. In addition, its assertion that olestra impairs the body's ability to absorb carotenoids, substances found in certain vegetables that may lower cancer risk, is supported by Harvard School of Public Health Chair Walter Willett.

But, the FDA counters, there is currently not a single study demonstrating that carotenoids prevent cancer, and even CSPI admits the verdict on any salutary benefits of carotenoids is far from conclusive. "There is not a lot of support in the scientific community right now for carotenoids," says CSPI's Miller. "But there is evidence growing that they can prevent cancer."

As Jeff Stier of ACSH says, the issue is not that olestra might pose certain minimal consumer health risks, but that consumers should be allowed to consider those alleged risks when making purchasing decisions. If CSPI has its way in its drive to revoke FDA approval of olestra, the opportunity for informed consumer choice would be eliminated.

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