Fat replacers

Fat replacers are nonfat substances that act like fat in a food. An ideal fat replacer would be a substance that has no health risks and tastes and looks like natural fat but has fewer calories. There is no one substance that is an ideal fat replacer. So several kinds are often used in one food.

Fat replacers are categorized into three basic types:

  • Carbohydrate -based. These are made from starchy foods, such as corn, cereals, and grains. Most fat replacers today are made from carbohydrate.
  • Protein -based. These are made by modifying protein, using egg white or whey from milk.
  • Fat-based. These are made by replacing triglycerides in vegetable oils.

Fat replacers may not be listed by their brand names on the ingredient label, which makes it hard for people to identify them in the foods they buy.

If you are interested in using fat replacers, consider the following:

  • Current research shows that carbohydrate- and protein-based fat replacers don't hurt health.
  • A noncaloric fat replacer, olestra, interferes with the absorption of fat-soluble substances, including the fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K) and carotenoids. Carotenoids are substances that give plants their color, and they are antioxidants in your body. Examples include carotenes and lycopene (found in tomatoes). Side effects of olestra include cramping, bloating, and loose stools.
  • Foods that contain fat replacers may have fewer calories compared to foods that contain fat. But some people may tend to eat more of the food that contains a replacer, which makes up for the reduction in calories.

More research is needed on fat replacers. If you want to include fat replacers in your diet, talk with a registered dietitian.

Last Updated: March 2, 2010

Author: Kathleen M. Ariss, MS

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

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