The dawn of guilt-free gluttony may be at hand, thanks to a decision yesterday by the typically rigorous US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to declare a new zero-calorie fat to be fit for human consumption.
Olestra, the name of the scientifically elaborated concoction, will first hit the market in the shape of a potato chip to be christened with the brand name "Olean".
Scientists employed by Procter and Gamble have been working for 25 years to produce the magic formula, whose powers are expected to extend beyond the manufacture of snacks to ice cream, chocolate cake and fine gourmet meals.
Zero-fat foods already on the market have tended to taste like cardboard. What Olestra does is supply the delights of grease without the aesthetically disastrous consequences.
"Potato chips, crackers, tortilla chips or other snacks made with olestra will be lower in fat and calories than snacks made with traditional fats," an FDA statement said. In the case of Olean, this means that you will still be absorbing calories from the potato but not from the added value required to convert it into a chip. An ounce of regular potato chips has 10 grams of fat and 150 calories, but chips made with olestra have no fat at all and carry only 60 calories.
The secret of Olestra is contained in the molecules. Natural fat molecules are absorbed by the intestinal enzymes into the bloodstream. Olestra molecules, made of sugar and vegetable oil, are bigger and more tightly packed, making them resistant to enzyme attack.
Where, then, does the Olestra fat go? Herein lies the problem. It goes straight through the system, undigested, and out the other end.