Fat Substitutes Could Cause Obesity

Fat substitutes may backfire for people looking to lose weight, and instead set off a chain reaction of metabolic and hormonal responses that lead to obesity, new research shows.

Synthetic fat substitutes can actually lead to obesity, according to a recent study published in the American Psychiatric Association’s journal Behavioral Neuroscience. Tests performed on laboratory rats by researchers at Purdue University, examined how fake fats—such as olestra, which pass through the body undigested—have on the body’s ability to regulate its processes and handle fat intake.

The study found that the taste of high fat foods touches off a chain reaction of metabolic and hormonal responses in the body, in preparation for a large influx of calories. When there is no large influx of calories, such as when a person consumes a fat substitute, the body is confused and this interferes with the chain reaction.

To perform the study, researchers divided a population of lab rats and fed one half a low fat diet and the other a high fat diet. Half of the rats in each group also received high-fat Pringles® potato chips. The other half of each group received a mix of both high-fat Pringles and the low-fat version of Pringles made with olestra.

The rats that were given a high fat diet with a mixture of both types of chips consumed more food, gained more weight, and developed more fatty tissue than rats in any other cohort. In addition, the rats in this group did not lose the weight once chips were removed from their diets. In contrast, the rats fed a low fat diet did not gain weight when given either type of potato chip. And when the rats who had been on a low fat diet were switched to a high fat diet, the ones who received a mixture of both kinds of potato chips gained more weight than those who ate only the high-fat kind.

According to Dr. Susan Swithers, professor of psychology at Purdue and the lead researcher on the project team, “Based on this data, a diet that is low in fat and calories might be a better strategy for weight loss than using fat substitutes.”

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