"The Heart of the Matter"

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Transcripts: 519-1 to 519-4

Week: 519.1 Guest: Myra Karstadt, Ph.D. Topic: Olestra - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is a four part series about a new and potentially significant entrant into the American food supply, Olestra. My guest is Dr. Myra Karstadt from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

NEMA: Dr. Karstadt, would you first lay a little background for our discussion by explaining - what is Olestra?

KARSTADT: Olestra is a fake fat. It's made out of sugar, sucrose, and fatty acids of various kinds and it's like nothing nature ever made. It's a molecule that your body can't absorb. In other words if you swallow it and it gets into your gut, it can't get out of the gut and into the blood stream so it means it can't be absorbed, means it can't be digested so as to what it's like, it's sort of like mineral oil, the old-timey laxative that was an oily material and you'd eat it and it would get into your body and it couldn't be absorbed which means it couldn't be digested and it would kind of wander through the gut and pick up fat soluble materials as it went along and then wander out and in the process of wandering out, it would sometimes go out as an oily material and leave stains on your undies and it would also cause laxative effects and it's still being used in fact, although not very frequently, as a laxative.

NEMA: Well, clearly the selling point for Olestra is that it's supposed to be a reasonable facsimile of fat in terms of its taste and can be used in snack foods which it thus far has been approved for use in tortilla chips and some potato chips and so forth. Other than that, in the first place, does it taste like fat?

KARSTADT: Well, I've had Olestra in various formulations. I had a whole meal made with Olestra foods at a gourmet restaurant in Washington, I should note. I've had various types of potato chips and brownies. I'm not a potato chip expert so I really can't tell you whether they were great or not but as far as the food went, the food went from basically a salad dressing to the oil for frying oysters to the shortening used for making a pear tart, the Olestra tastes like fat. In other words, it doesn't particularly taste like anything much so far as I can tell and it does carry flavor along with it which is what fat does. And by the way, the non-fat Olestra brownies were really pretty impressive.

NEMA: So it tastes reasonable. It doesn't seem to put on weight in the way that traditional fat put on weight because of its inability to be absorbed so other than the potential digestive problems for some people, what are the nutritional problems?

KARSTADT: Well, as far as it not putting on weight, it's not at all clear that it does anything to help as far as reducing weight or reducing fat intake because Proctor & Gamble's own data showed that when people eat Olestra foods, it seems that they feel hungry or they feel entitled to eat something else and what they tend to do is make up their calories in other foods so although they may not be eating full fat potato chips the way they did, it looks like they'll probably just eat the same caloric value of Olestra potato chips as they would've gotten out of the full fat potato chips or go get the calories somewhere else.

NEMA: Join me for part two on Olestra with Dr. Myra Karstadt.


Week: 519.2 Guest: Myra Karstadt, Ph.D. Topic: Olestra - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part two in a four part series on the new fat substitute Olestra and its potential dangers. My guest is Dr. Myra Karstadt from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

KARSTADT: As far as reducing the fat, there really won't be that much reduction of fat because again, people just may eat other fatty foods or it may very well be they'll follow the example of what happened with the artificial sweeteners, and with artificial sweeteners what's been shown is that obesity in the United States has increased with the consumption of the artificial sweeteners like saccharin so you really can't say that Olestra's going to do much as far as reducing the fat or obesity. As far as our objections to Olestra on a safety basis, we are very concerned about the depletion of fat soluble nutrients that are not going to be replaced by Proctor & Gamble. That's particularly the carotenoids but it may well be other fat soluble nutrients we don't know about at this time and we're also concerned about Olestra's tendency to cause gastro-intestinal disturbances and both the gastro-intestinal disturbances and the depletion of the fat soluble nutrients like the carotenoids occur when people eat Olestra or Olestra foods under conditions you would only refer to as sort of ordinary consumption scenarios like eating it with lunch at really ordinary levels, not extreme levels, not exaggerated eating conditions. It's just the kind of thing that you'd expect to eat if you were an ordinary type person.

NEMA: Okay. First, would you explain what carotenoids are for those who don't understand what they are.

KARSTADT: Glad to. Carotenoids are a class of nutrients and they're found in fruits and vegetables and they seem to be associated with protection against illnesses and the illnesses range from cancer through heart disease to blindness so carotenoids seem to be pretty important. They range in solubility from very very fat soluble to not incredibly fat soluble to pretty soluble in water and not all that soluble in fat but in general, carotenoids are reasonably fat soluble and so since they're fat soluble nutrients, they will tend to be taken up by Olestra which grabs fatty materials as the carotenoids and Olestra meet up in your digestive tract.

NEMA: How did you go about studying Olestra to the degree that you felt that you could document your finding?

KARSTADT: What we did was we reviewed Proctor & Gamble's clinical and animal and other data. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Food and Drug Administration don't do studies of our own so we work with the data submitted to FDA by the company and that's just what we did. We focused our attention without knowing just what the FDA was going to be concentrating on because they keep their activities confidential while they're doing a review, we focused on studies that were sent in to FDA in 1993 so these really have been the latest of the safety studies submitted by Proctor & Gamble to FDA and it turned out that these were the right studies to look at. They're clinical studies that lasted eight weeks.

NEMA: Join me for part three on Olestra with Dr. Myra Karstadt.


Week: 519.3 Guest: Myra Karstadt, Ph.D. Topic: Olestra - Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part three in a four part series about the new fat substitute Olestra and its potential dangers. My guest is Dr. Myra Karstadt from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

NEMA: In your opinion, does Olestra show a greater number of adverse side effects in a greater number of people than any new food substance that's introduced into the market?

KARSTADT: Olestra's a very different kind of food substance as far as food additives go. Usually food additives are things like food colors or flavorings and you only have tiny, tiny, tiny amounts in your food and usually when you're dealing with these tiny amounts, you're not talking about acute toxic effects like people getting digestive problems. They're just isn't enough of the stuff there. What you're usually talking about when you're talking about these tiny amounts of a color or a flavor is long term effects like cancer and so you test in animals but Olestra's very different because Olestra's really going to be a fat replacement and it's going to be really replacing part of your food and it's going to be taken into your body in the diet at much higher levels than food additives that have been used in the past. Instead of being a few parts per million, Olestra's going to be several percent by weight even if you just have it in snacks in your diet each day if you eat Olestra foods on a regular basis. That's pretty extraordinary and that makes Olestra different from other additives that we're used to dealing with.

NEMA: Now I'm not speaking to you today as a representative of the FDA or as a person who's against the FDA but I have to ask - if a food has this many problems that are known even by the producer - Proctor & Gamble in this case, what process and what criteria does the FDA impose on new foods to determine whether they are approvable or not?

KARSTADT: FDA is supposed to apply the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the statute requires that a food additive be shown to be safe before it can be put on the market for use for which a food additive petition has been filed. The agency has interpreted the statute to say that the criterion is that there be a reasonable certainty of no harm from use of the additive. We have done an extensive review of both the substance of Proctor & Gamble's safety data and also the process and procedures used by FDA during their review and approval of Olestra and it seems to us quite obvious that the science alone is sufficient so that you cannot say under any circumstances that there is reasonable certainty of no harm if Olestra is used even for the limited applications in snack foods. We are puzzled and continue to be very very troubled by the Food and Drug Administration's decision to approve Olestra because it does not seem at all consistent with the statute or the agency's regulatory interpretation of the statute and we simply do not understand how they did this. We are dumbfounded by the agency's decision to basically ignore carotenoids and their possible impact on health and their protective effects.

NEMA: Join me for part four on Olestra with Dr. Myra Karstadt.


Week: 519.4 Guest: Myra Karstadt, Ph.D. Topic: Olestra - Part Four Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part four in a four part series on the new fat substitute Olestra and its potential dangers. My guest is Dr. Myra Karstadt from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

KARSTADT: It appears that an awful lot of money has been spent in promoting Olestra for the last five years, ten years to dietitians, physicians, all kinds of people involved in the food world and an awful lot of money's also been devoted to really the process of getting Olestra through the regulatory system and bringing pressure to bear frankly on the Food and Drug Administration in various ways to encourage FDA to approve the product.

NEMA: And just like other food, this does have to be listed on a container that has Olestra in it, correct?

KARSTADT: Olestra would be included in the ingredient labeling and it looks like it also would be featured as something to attract people to use the products. We would expect the name, the Olean name to be featured probably in a banner or in some way to really catch the eye and probably on the front of the package as well.

NEMA: I don't know how much scientific basis you have for answering this question, but if you have any thoughts on it I'd be curious to know what they are. How do you feel about the idea of the consumption of products containing Olestra as to their effect on children?

KARSTADT: Your question's a really good one because one of our great frustrations has been the lack of adequate data on kids. One thing we do know about snack foods is that children are major consumers of snacks - tortilla chips, potato chips and of course crackers but Proctor & Gamble's longest study of the acute effects of Olestra in children lasted for seven days and the kids were only consuming an amount equivalent to about an ounce of potato chips and if you sort of watch kids and know what kids are up to - one ounce of potato chips is something that is well below what a kid can put away. The question of what happens to kids is an open one. There's also inadequate information on older people, pregnant women, people with inadequate nutritional status, people with malabsorption illnesses, various bowel diseases, all sorts of data gaps and again it's just one more reason why we are absolutely confounded by FDA's decision to approve Olestra.

NEMA: This may seem like a superfluous question at this point but in summary I'd like to ask you, do I therefore assume that the Center for Science in the Public Interest is basically taking a stand that people should not consume this or are you merely just trying to put the data that you've seen so far out in front of the consumer?

KARSTADT: Our recommendation to consumers is to stay away from Olestra foods. This may not be easy. One of the problems with the Olestra products is that they fall into a group of products that's often consumed away from the immediate packaging where the label is. You might go over to somebody's house and there'll be a big bowl of chips that are sitting on the table. You don't know what's in the bowl of chips. Your kid may go over to someone's house and you're not going to be able to control what the kid eats at that point and will it be Olestra chips, would it be crackers containing Olestra? Who would know? So we certainly encourage people to be careful and to avoid the product.

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Last modified: November 01, 2021