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Don't say I didn't warn you: This year Proctor & Gamble, American's leading manufacturer of household goods (Crisco, Crest, Folger's and Pampers) will try to fool you.
Fed up with the thousands of thunderous calls made by angry consumers who have complained about the presence of palm oil in our nation's best-selling grease, Crisco, P&G is planning to substitute one saturated fat for another and replace the loathsome tropical oil with the seemingly harmless cottonseed oil. However promising it might seem, though, cottonseed oil will end up hydrogenated because in order to attain the solid consistency of shortening, it must be converted to a saturated fat. Adding insult to injury, P&G intends to raise the price of the "new and improved" version of Crisco, as the availability of cotton seeds isn't what it used to be.
Candidly admitting that although this reformulation will "do nothing to reduce the saturated fat of Crisco," the fat-switching nonetheless should calm protests from anti-tropical-oil consumers, half of whom couldn't discern shortening from cold cream anyway.
But to cover all bases of dietary business, P&G also plans to produce a fat-like substance that neither contains cholesterol nor calories. Calling this oil, which chemists claim is a fake fat, "Olestra," P&G says it is just one of several fat substitutes awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Chefs and chemists are guarding the precious formula from slick industrial spies at their main office in Cincinnati and working together to perfect Olestra's palatability, the quirk that has prompted such criticisms as, "It leaves a coating on the tongue," and "I wouldn't spread it on my English muffin."
Known in the chemistry kingdom as "sucrose polyester," a molecular rearrangement of sucrose and some fatty acids, Olestra cannot be digested or absorbed by the human body. As with indigestible fiber, the human body reportedly doesn't produce the right enzymes to assimilate this and other fake fats.
Manufacturers, aware of the marketability and trillion-dollar profit potential predicted for fake fat, are battling it out to develop the best diet food even before FDA approval is granted. Kraft General Foods, for example, is lobbying government officials to permit the sale of its fake fat, a creamy untitled substance made of milk and egg proteins that provides significantly less calories than fat.
For starters, Kraft wants to incorporate the thick protein in its line of frozen desserts. Insiders claim, however, that the Monsanto Company, maker of textiles (fibers, carpets, fabrics, etc.), will probably receive the FDA approval first for its milk-and-egg protein-based fat substitute, "Simplesse." Unfortunately, Simplesse can't tolerate heat, nor is it suitable for frying. Presumably, Kraft General's product and Simplesse will provide a creamy texture and rich body for desserts, dairy products (especially cheese), dressings and sauces, while frying and sautéing will be left to Olestra.
Frito Lay, a subsidiary of Pepsi-Cola, is finding ways for its own commercial offsprings (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) to employ its fake fat, DDM. Already successful with frying corn and potatoes in a partially fake fat, Frito Lay cites favorable reports from a battery of chefs who have experimented with DDM.
Despite how safe fake fats might prove to be, as well as their culinary versatility or dietary viability, some nutrition experts-like Marion Nestle, professor and chairperson of New York University's Department of Nutrition and Home Economics and managing editor of the 1988 U.S. Surgeon General's Report that encouraged consumers to decrease their dietary fat intake-are skeptical that this barrage of fake fats will actually satisfy our nation's "fat tooth," especially since sales figures for sugar show that sugar consumption is on the rise despite the availability of safe alternative sweeteners. (Maybe Equal doesn't sell as well because it's impossible to cook with and because it's exorbitantly priced.)
Cynically, Nestle predicts that the calories we save by eating fake fats will be made up by the consumption of real fats.
Meanwhile, P&G is feverishly concerned with improving the palatability of Olestra and is working to make it as good, if not better than, its other oils. No doubt the company will be the first to bottle a fake fat for frying, just as it was first to introduce a branded Canola oil (Puritan, which has the least saturated fat and more linoleic acid than any other solid oil), soybean oil and a solid vegetable shortening that contains no cholesterol (Crisco).
As the decision regarding the fate of Olestra draws near, the FDA and Center of Science in the Public Interest are keeping a watchful eye on Olestra-eating laboratory rats, which, according to CSPI, have scored high in both development of tumors and liver changes.
In a studied effort to avert what it believes was a "bum rap" for Crisco in January 1989, when tropical fats came under the scrutiny of dietary do-gooders, P&G maintains its claims as to the safety of the already-controversial Olestra, saying that all test results heretofore have been absolutely normal and that the reported liver lesions were "normally occurring for that strain of female rat." Furthermore, adds a P&G spokesman, no evidence indicates that the same thing would happen in human livers. (Further evidence of the futility of using laboratory animals for research.)
But another group, which has the most to lose (monetarily) if fake fats like Olestra replaced veritable ones, is making itself known. And just what does the National Renderers Association, whose members make their living converting discarded animal scraps-particularly fat trimmings- into pet food and poultry feed, stand to lose? The 9 million pounds of grease that restaurants in America dispose of every day.
To abate the renderers' fears, P&G recently sanctioned a task force to examine whether Olestra can be isolated from "real" fats or chemically reconverted to its original calorie value.
Jerry Brainum, bodybuilding's foremost bio-researcher, believes that the new variety of fake fats (which, by the way, shouldn't be confused with MCTs, medium-chain triglycerides, which are indigestible fatty acids that usually induce nausea even when taken in small quantities) is just another example of how quickly and effectively the food industry can solve consumer problems when science becomes involved with creating the solutions.