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Chapter: Nutrition and Diet Therapy: Lipids or Fats

Fats and the Consumer

Fats continue to be of particular interest to the consumer.



Fats continue to be of particular interest to the consumer. Most people know that fats are high-calorie foods and that they are related to heart disease. But people who are not in the health field may not know how fats affect health. Consequently, they may be easily duped by clever ads for or salespersons of nutritional supplements or new “health food” products.


It is important that the health care professional carefully evaluate any new dietary “supplement” for which a nutrition claim is made. If the item is not included in the RDA, DRI, or AI, it is safe to assume that medical research has not determined that it is essential. Ingestion of dietary supplements of un-known value could, ironically, be damaging to one’s health.



Lecithin is a fatty substance classified as a phospholipid. It is found in bothplant and animal foods and is synthesized in the liver. It is a natural emulsifier that helps transport fat in the bloodstream. It is used commercially to make food products smooth.


Lecithin supplements have been promoted by some health food salesper-sons as being able to prevent cardiovascular disease. To date, this has not been scientifically proven.

Fat Alternatives


Research into fat alternatives has been in progress for decades. Olestra, the newest product on the market, is made from carbohydrates and fat. The FDA has approved olestra for use only in snack foods such as potato chips, tortilla chips, and crackers. The government requires that food la-bels indicate that olestra “inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients.” Therefore, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K havebeen added to foods containing olestra. Olestra contains no calories, but it can cause cramps and diarrhea. The products manufactured with olestrashould be used in moderation.

Simplesse is made from either egg white or milk protein and contains1.3 kcal/g. Simplesse can be used only in cold foods such as ice cream because it becomes thick or gels when heated. Simplesse is not available forhome use.

Oatrim is carbohydrate-based and is derived from oat fiber. Oatrim isheat-stable and can be used in baking but not in frying. Manufacturers haveused carbohydrate-based compounds for years as thickeners. Oatrim does provide calories, but significantly less than fat.

The long-term effects these products may have on human health andnutrition are unknown. If they are used in the way the U.S. population usesartificial sweeteners, they probably will not reduce the actual fat content inthe diet. They may simply be additions to it. One concern among nutritionistsis that they will be used in place of nutritious food that, in addition to fat, alsoprovides vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates.

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