What Are the Pros and Cons of Olestra?

Olestra has been shown to help reduce obesity by replacing fat, but has also been condemned for causing gastrointestinal issues and depleting fat-soluble nutrients such as many vitamins. Though olestra lost early popularity due to those side effects, it is still included in some diet products.

In 1971, olestra was discovered accidentally by Procter & Gamble researchers investigating better fats to use in infant formulas. After several failed attempts at identifying uses for this new substance, Procter & Gamble finally received approval from the FDA in 1996 to use it as a snack food additive. However, consumers almost immediately began complaining of side effects, especially of gastrointestinal upset. Researchers pointed out that olestra, like regular fats, dissolved and transported fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and, because it passed through the system so quickly, robbed the body of their benefits.

Though the bad publicity from these side effects stifled widespread usage of olestra, as of 2015 it could still be found in a few products, including Lays Light and Pringles Light potato chips. In addition, Procter & Gamble is still researching the possibility of commercial uses of olestra, including an environmentally-safe additive to industrial lubricants and paints and a method for removing dioxins from the body.